December 1991

What to Do?

May God bless all who contributed, edited, or otherwise produced the NOR's "Symposium on Transcending Ideological Conformity" (Oct. 1990). Did others share my feelings of real consolation from this rainbow of personal convictions which surely resonated with many American Catholic hearts? Truly, I felt the Symposium was a means Christ chose to say to many of us -- the alienated, antagonized, and heartbroken -- "You are not alone."

Surely there is a generation of middle-aged Catholic Americans abroad in the land, which is angry and frustrated by the nation's public waywardness -- and by a good bit of its amoral private life as well. We were born in the Depression years. We were raised in loving Catholic families -- households also urged on by New Deal visions of social justice. Now, our "convictions" (ideological or not) are tempered by those heartbreaks attendant upon mere survival into middle age. We are quite discontented. We have been outraged by the multiplied evils of Reaganism, laid off in droves by "streamlining" employers so as to be denied pensions, impoverished by the medical burdens of final illnesses of beloved parents, scandalized by First World cruelties and injustices toward the Third World, and insulted by media attacks upon both faith and family. I wonder if we are a "worm that might turn." Surely, as the Symposium suggests, we are not collectively beset by pervasive disillusionment with American institutions, political alignments, and moribund orthodoxies of "Left" and "Right."

Yet within those Symposium contributions, I found much of our ideology lurking. Surely each of us tries to systematize personal convictions into some modicum of coherence. When our minds follow common paths toward like convictions, we tend to, like it or not, produce what can reasonably be labeled as our Christian ideology. Expressed in different ways by different Symposium participants, the core elements of that ideology are surely an affirmation of the essence of Christianity and a passion for real, substantive social justice of globe-girding dimensions.

The Symposium was wonderful -- a landmark contribution to contemporary social dialogue. But my consequent question is most troubling: Will any of us rise up to fight for that which we ought to defend? Will we rise from the depths of current disillusionment to struggle for affirmation of the core of values and beliefs so well and so variously alluded to in the Symposium?

What should we aging, troglodyte inheritors of the traditions of Catholic New Dealer parents do? The Symposium has illuminated some impressive areas for solidarity. From the carcasses of today's dying secular ideological structures, can we abstract -- and fight for -- those beliefs of heart and mind that the Inner Man is certain ought to be fought for? Quo vadis? What ought we to do?

John Mapes
Stamford, Connecticut




Christ, Not Ideologies

Things appear to be drifting rightwards. Perhaps it only seems so to me because I am so drifting, have been since the 1960s. Or perhaps the Left seems nowadays to be mainly a defense of its "lifestyles," many of them repulsive. True, capitalism is rapacious, and is also repulsive, even to traditional (as opposed to neo-) conservatives. There remains the problem of the poor, to which Marxism, after all, is not the solution. One is grateful to know what the solution is not, but what the solution is remains a mystery to both Left and Right.

I didn't much want to read the "Symposium on Transcending Ideological Conformity" (Oct. 1990), but did. Insofar as the respondents said that the Church -- the Church herself without Left or Right, only with Christ -- is the solution, I am in agreement. In this regard I found the most clarity in Ronald Austin's piece. If I could have an evening's conversation with any respondent, it would be with him.

In his piece, Christopher Lasch says he thought in the 1960s to write a book on the history of womanhood. At the same time I began a novel in which I created a young woman of the 1960s. Beneath the adventures she had, I am saying some deep-thought things about women and love and, above all, marriage. This is another way of approaching Lasch's subject. (The novel is Gateway to Heaven, recently republished.)

Sheldon Vanauken
Lynchburg, Virginia




Our Herd

I was more than usually pleased by the October 1990 NOR. The "Symposium on Transcending Ideological Conformity" reiterated to me the reasons I first became attracted to your journal. Perhaps I responded partly to an ideological "herd instinct," as John Cort put it. I had always felt out of place for simultaneously holding political views mostly considered "left" and orthodox Catholic positions mostly considered "right." Finding the NOR was like discovering a whole new political "party" which was sensible enough to eschew politics when political solutions don't work.

I am further reassured by the fact that I failed to fit the specific ideological pattern of any single Symposium still contribution. But I would still recognize myself as being, in some sense, a member of the same group as most of them. I admit I find comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone.

Few journals other than the NOR so consistently questioned the validity of the Gulf War. Where else can you feel at home maintaining both that abortion is not an inalienable right and that caring for unwanted babies is a societal duty? Where else might you interject a bit of Catholic dogma into an argument to bolster a point and not be considered intellectually backward? So, if I am a member of the NOR herd, I can at least take comfort in the fact that it is a herd with a heart and a mind, not just one or the other.

Joseph W. Thomas
South Bend, Indiana




Double-Talk

I recently saw a bumper sticker that clarified for me what a slogan is. It read: "Pro-child. Pro-family. Pro-choice."

A slogan is something that is either (1) devoid of moral content (such as "Eat rice, not wheat" [see Mt. 15:11]) or (2) a big lie. Its purpose is, by intensity of repetition, to convince people that it is true.

The slogan on the bumper sticker can, with slight annotation, be exposed as an example of (2): "Pro-some-other-child. Pro-family (or what's left of it). Pro-choice, except for the pre-slain."

Steffen Richards
Berkeley, California




Media Violence

Movie and television violence could be contributing to a significant increase in serious crime by their display of illegal behavior that some viewers may imitate. Preservation of a single life would be sufficient reason for the enactment of laws to prohibit violent entertainment.

Kenneth Berger
Teaneck, New Jersey




Relic of the True Cross

Tragic. That's how Gabriel Meyer described the historic situation In the Middle East. Meyer's speech, "Survival in the Holy Land," presented by the New Oxford Review Forum of Southern California, was given at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on September 18, 1990.

Meyer's perspectives were derived from his unique experiences. He initially went to Israel in the 1970s to pursue studies in rabbinical interpretations of the Scriptures. He later returned as part of the City of the Lord charismatic community, which ministered to the very poor in the Moslem quarter of Jerusalem. As Middle East correspondent for the National Catholic Register, he traveled widely throughout the area.

Meyer said that the precarious condition of Christians in the Middle East has been strikingly similar to that of tie Jews in Christendom in modern times. Jerusalem was the site of the founding of Christianity, and in the years prior to the rise of Islam, the Jewish-Christians of the Holy Land formed much of our now-common beliefs and liturgy. Monasticism, hymns, and Marian devotion, for instance, all arise, from the practices of the early Christian communities of the area. Since the seventh century, however, Christians have been rider the sometimes strict arid demanding domination of Islamic law and custom. Christians are a powerless minority in the region, always vulnerable, frequently oppressed.

The most pressing current problem, Meyer reported, is "Christian flight." To the extent that Christians are "caught in the middle" of the struggle between Israel and the Arabs, their hardships have increased, and they seek refuge in other lands. The Gulf War has intensified this problem.

Meyer also described the ascendancy of Islamic fundamentalism. He believes that the PLO, Sadaam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, and other Arab "nationalist" groups are now bankrupt, and are surrendering leadership to the fundamentalists.

Dispelling some stereotypes, Meyer told of his direct experiences with both Jews and Moslems. The Islamic fundamentalist, he pointed out, is not necessarily poor or illiterate. Many of the leaders, in particular, have professional degrees. They have a simplistic and negative view of the West, and, not unlike Christian fundamentalists, seek a simpler way of life based upon their scriptures and religious laws. Frustrated by their limited opportunities, they practice an often violent "politics of desperation." On the other hand, the religious Jews in Israel, usually Orthodox, are not all lock-step supporters of government policies, but include a wide spectrum of opinion, and many, troubled by the Palestinian plight, seek to apply the biblical principles of justice and brotherhood. Meyer reported that there is much more understanding of the Vatican's diplomatic neutrality, based on the hope to serve as a mediator, among Israelis than elsewhere.

Meyer concluded by suggesting that the role forced up on the Christian of the Holy Land will remain that of the powerless peacemaker. The remnant Christian community may be seen as a living, breathing "relic of the true Cross," and its powerlessness and suffering may reveal the Via Dolorosa as the sole path to peace and reconciliation.

Ronald Austin
Studio City



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