October 2001

Let’s Join the Environmental Debate

I enjoyed Michael Morassutti’s review of The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell and Whitley Streiber (April). I am a professional climatologist, and he rightly debunks the histrionic and unscientific arguments put forth by these authors. Christians must be wary of their type of reasoning, as it is an example of the many heresies that abound in today’s turbulent social climate. However, a word of caution is also in order. There is a tendency among traditional Christians to dismiss the environmental debate because it is dominated by the Left. This is wrong. Just because there are radical positions on environmental issues does not mean that there are not serious environmental problems.

Some problems, such as climate change, are indeed so vast and complex that it is difficult to predict their causes and consequences with any certainty. However, there are myriad others where the causes are much easier to pinpoint. For example, species loss, deforestation, toxic waste, and air and water pollution are clearly the result of human activities. Historically, conservatives have tended either to deny these problems or to view them as a necessary price for human progress. Radicals, of course, see them as examples of an “anthropocentric” arrogance that can be traced back to a patriarchal Judeo-Christian religion that mandates human dominance over the natural world. In their minds, the problem lies with Western civilization itself. Thus, in order to change the current situation, the entire Judeo-Christian worldview must be discarded and replaced by one that is sufficiently egalitarian, inclusive, and in harmony with nature.

The problem with this interpretation is that its conclusions are based on false premises. First, there is an implicit belief among contemporary environmentalists that all human activities lead to environmental damage. This is not always the case. Environmental damage is not the result of human activities per se, but of certain types of social arrangements, processes, and attitudes. Second, while localized environmental problems have occurred throughout history, the scale and frequency of environmental degradation is of more recent origin. Much of it can be traced to industrialization and the materialist culture that has grown up with it. That’s right, secular materialist civilization — post-Western civilization to be exact! — has plundered the planet more than any in human history. The worship of technology and the unbridled pursuit of wealth has transformed the planet into a giant production-consumption center, in which human beings and nature have both been assigned a purely instrumental value.

It is ironic that orthodox Christians have long understood the spiritual loss that modernity entails, yet we have failed to connect the loss of spirituality with the loss of the natural world. The “Death of God” and the “Death of Nature” are two sides of the same coin, and it is high time that the environmental debate is transformed into one that takes into account this spiritual perspective. Our Pope has warned us that we live in a culture of death. And in this culture, the slaughter of the unborn, the destruction of rainforests, and the poisoning of our water and air all share the same root cause — the belief that human beings can shape their destiny by controlling the physical world. It is only by the subjugation of human desire to the spiritual order, of which nature is an intrinsic part, that the modern crisis can be mitigated. If orthodox Christians fail to make this crucial connection, the errant voices of pantheists, feminists, and other heretics will continue to dominate the environmental debate. We, on the other hand, will persist in supporting the status quo, thinking that our comfortable material existence is a gift from God, rather than the sin of luxury, which divides us from God, nature, and eternal truth.

Tobias J. Lanz
University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina




“Spiritually Perverse”?

Regarding Fr. Neuhaus and universal salvation, the topic of the exchange of articles between Janet Holl Madigan and Dale Vree (Jul.-Aug.): I have read the book by Fr. Neuhaus in question, Death on a Friday Afternoon, and I found Vree’s critique of Madigan’s defense of Neuhaus highly persuasive. I was also fascinated by Fr. Neuhaus’s belated defense of himself and clarification of his book in First Things (Aug./Sept. 2001). There he says that those who avoid sin so as to avoid going to Hell are “spiritually perverse.” Well, to this day I still say “I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments but most of all because I fear the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell.” I guess I’m guilty of base sentiments in Fr. Neuhaus’s eyes.

I work with adolescents at Los Guillicos Detention Center. The boys have access to the Bible in their cells, and it’s so important for them to hear those Scripture passages cited by Vree which indicate that God does turn His back on unrepentant evildoers. The boys understand justice, and they’ve heard about Hell, and it is clear talking about those matters which has the power to get them to change the direction of their lives. And who’s to say that their conversion would be “spiritually perverse”? Moreover, I fear that Fr. Neuhaus’s strategy for evangelization — which omits talking about Hell — would be entirely lost on the boys.

Nora Ernst
Santa Rosa, California






The exchange of articles between Madigan and Vree would have been much more informative if it hadn’t been so lopsided. Madigan was in no way able to hold up her end. Her logic was tortuous and torturous — her arguments ranged from being unsubstantiated by facts to being irrelevant. And she was verbose. Maybe in her university environment she can get away with presenting cases this way, but it doesn’t sell in the real world.

Madigan did, however, manage to produce an (unintended) irony when she accused Vree, the Editor of the NOR, of being “uncharitable.” The only act of unkindness on the NOR’s part was to publish Madigan’s “In Defense of Richard John Neuhaus,” for it exposed her as one who is not ready for prime time.

Pete Skurkiss
Chester Township, New Jersey






There once was a boy who was arrested for stealing. He came before the judge. The boy’s ever-loyal mom defended him by trumpeting her son’s virtuosity — as being the finest, most adroit burglar in the business. As she proudly recounted each caper in detail, the son’s urge to commit matricide mounted. Madigan’s defense of Neuhaus reminded me of that mom’s defense.

John Bushong
Sierra Vista, Arizona






I strongly disagree with Peter Kreeft’s assertion (letter, Jul.-Aug.) that Fr. Neuhaus is “totally orthodox,” for no orthodox Christian would adopt an a priori theological position (universalism) and systematically distort Scripture in order to make his case for that position. From my reading of Fr. Neuhaus’s book, Death on a Friday Afternoon, I can see that Neuhaus does exactly that.

Neuhaus obviously has a moral objection to Hell. It is not that Neuhaus is a dunderhead; it is that he refuses to be obedient to the very Gospel he is supposed to proclaim. The story told by Scripture is radically different from the one Neuhaus claims it tells. The apostles conceived their task to be one of going out into the world to save souls by the power of the Gospel. To miss this is to be willfully blind.

Edwin Hart Turner
Parchman, Mississippi






I have read Fr. Neuhaus’s response to his critics in First Things (Aug./Sept.). He presents a carefully thought-out defense of his position. But when he says in his book (going by Madigan’s article) that his position is that the Church’s mission is not to bring the Gospel to the world, for it is already there, but to bring the world to itself, I wonder what would have happened to the Gospel if St. Paul had adopted that position, if he had not gone around the ancient world proclaiming the Gospel — or if missionaries from time immemorial hadn’t risked death to further it.

Madigan quotes Neuhaus: “The Christian life is about living to the glory of God. It is not a driven, frenetic, sweated, interminable quest for saving souls.” How ironic! The present age is one where — to borrow from Karol Wojtyla shortly before he became Pope — we are facing the greatest confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, the Gospel and the anti-Gospel, that ever there has been. The stakes are immensely high, for there are great evils spreading across the world, with evildoers endangering the very salvation of countless souls. Fr. Neuhaus’s sincerity is unmistakable, but his message seems out of joint with the times.

Hortense Cupo
Staten Island, New York






I struggle with a habitual sin that only recently I have learned is a mortal sin. If I do not change, Hell is my fate. Fr. Neuhaus’s views on salvation and Hell would do virtually nothing to give me the desire to repent and cease committing this sin. However, because I understand what our Lord expects of me in order to obtain salvation and avoid Hell, I am motivated to struggle against this sin and change.

Reyes C. Rodriguez
Hobbs, New Mexico






Let us note what certain holy ones of God have to say about Hell. Number 741 of Notebook II in Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul describes St. Faustina’s visit to Hell: “The devils and the souls of the damned see each other…most of the souls there are those who disbelieved that there is a hell…. How terribly souls suffer there.”

St. Robert Bellarmine writes in his The Seven Words on the Cross: “For if one thief cooperated with the grace of God in that last moment, the other rejected it, and met his final doom” (chapter VI).

St. Francis Jerome (1642-1716) cried out in a loud voice over the corpse of a woman of ill-repute: “Catharine, tell us where thou art now.” The dead woman lifted her head and said: “In hell; I am in hell” (Hell and How to Avoid Hell by Fr. F.X. Schouppe and Thomas Nelson, p. 6).

St. Willibrord said in regard to the soul of Rotbod, King of the Frisians: “I have seen him this night, loaded with fiery chains, in the bottom of the abyss” (Hell and How to Avoid Hell, p. 7).

The seers of Fatima relate a vision of Hell: “We saw huge numbers of devils and lost souls in a vast and fiery ocean…. The lost souls were in their human bodies and seemed brown in color, tumbling about constantly in the flames and screaming with terror” (A Woman Clothed with the Sun, edited by John Delaney, p. 193).

Bill Foley
Tucson, Arizona






Earlier I was impressed with Richard John Neuhaus, but have since become suspicious of his “conversion” to Catholicism. I hope we have seen the end of the debate about Neuhaus. We can now decide on our own whether, when he became a Catholic, he brought with him orthodoxy or New-Agey Protestantism. Let’s not give him more importance than he deserves.

Bill Allen
River Falls, Wisconsin




Yes, a “Catholic Christian” Is What He Is

The letter from James L. Cardinal titled “‘Catholic Christians’: A Redundant Term” (Jul.-Aug.) has set me off. I can’t imagine why he would “tire” of or feel “nauseated” by hearing the term “Catholic Christian.” The only time I’ve heard “Christian” preceded by another word is in reference to Catholics (not Protestants). “Catholic Christian” is a proper designation for Mr. Cardinal.

Furthermore, he has insulted Protestants by stating that “any orthodox Catholic must know that” Protestants are not on the same plane as Catholics. Also, he has taken a swipe at other Catholics by his admiring use of the term “orthodox Catholic.”

Even though I am a Protestant, I get no special satisfaction in reminding Mr. Cardinal that an earlier Christian church — one as corrupt as any monarchy of that time — created an atmosphere that caused Protestantism.

I hope Mr. Cardinal will brush up on the Seven Deadly Sins. Many of us are guilty, but he is guilty of at least two of them.

Clifton Britt
Deer Park, New York




Speechless

As someone who completed her education before Vatican II, I was rendered speechless by Mitchell Kalpakgian’s article on the Miraculous Medal (June).

Miraculous Medals were such a given in our lives that I found it hard to understand why a serious magazine would devote three-and-a-half pages to an article detailing its discovery by a professor.

But then it came to me: The poor man was probably subjected to post-Vatican II “love mush.” So the article is not really a reflection on the author, but a depressing commentary on the prevailing Catholic climate.

I still wear the Miraculous Medal, and I’m glad Kalpakgian discovered it. There are many stories like the one he relates of Mary’s protective hand manifested through the Miraculous Medal.

Erika Papp Faber
Peter’s Boat Catholic Books
Botsford, Connecticut




What Has Happened To Peter Kreeft?

My goodness, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read Peter Kreeft’s letter (Jul.-Aug.) attacking the NOR’s critique of the universalist nonsense put out by Fr. Neuhaus. Kreeft asks, “Good grief, what has happened to the NOR?” I ask: What has happened to Peter Kreeft? I’m glad that the NOR still retains a truly Catholic mind when it comes to evaluating what comes from today’s “theologians.” It seems that Kreeft, who is certainly otherwise an admirable philosopher, is caving in to them. The worst part about it is that Kreeft’s accusations are completely unfounded. The NOR did prove its case very well, so I don’t see what Kreeft is upset about.

Kreeft himself, I hate to make it known, is not always a champion of Catholic orthodoxy. His book Fundamentals of the Faith (1988) actually endorses Luther’s heresy of Sola Fides (p. 290), and his Ecumenical Jihad (1996) sounds indifferentist and modernist at times, rather than Catholic.

That is not to say that I do not esteem Kreeft. On the contrary, I am fascinated by his clear style and compelling argumentation, and I recommend many of his books, such as The Unaborted Socrates and A Refutation of Moral Relativism. But it seems to me that some demon from the Screwtape Letters has made it his top priority to pull Kreeft down into the modernist pit. Let’s pray for Prof. Kreeft.

Mario Derksen
Coral Springs, Florida




My, how Peter Kreeft doth irritate me!

He worries that the NOR is going to lose its “intelligent readers.” Well, we’re still here, and we’re worried that Kreeft is succumbing to the hang-loose brand of Catholicism at Boston College where he teaches.

Kreeft accuses The Wanderer of “crotchety old nastiness.” Actually, there isn’t nearly enough Wanderer-style truth-telling these days. If there were, it might at least balance the barrage of p.c. nonsense we must contend with daily.

James F. Egart
Cincinnati, Ohio




Merely Grace?

I sell Catholic books. I used to handle books from Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), but their banning of your trademark ads was so disturbing that I quit selling their books.

And now I really know why I made that decision. I just happened to open a nice padded New American Bible from OSV to a section with glossy pictures and commentary, added to the Bible by OSV, entitled “Do This in Memory of Me: The Celebration of the Eucharist.” There I read that the eucharistic Elements are “not mere signs, but symbols of His body and blood.” So the Eucharist is above all symbolic. Boy, this turns things upside down.

“Mere signs”? It is Catholic doctrine that the eucharistic signs confer grace. How could the symbolism of the Eucharist be more important, such that one would speak of “mere” signs? With the topsy-turvy theology seen in that OSV Bible — and elsewhere — it’s no wonder that two-thirds of Catholics don’t understand the doctrine of Transubstantiation.

Donald J. Lynch
Winlock, Washington



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