A Frank Dialogue

Exchange with a former convert who 'put aside his faith'



In my last post, gentle readers, I introduced my former mentor, Karl Meyer. Long associated with the Catholic Worker and now an octogenarian, Meyer was and is both a peace activist of renown and a prescient environmentalist. Yet some time ago, this convert put aside his faith. Karl has now agreed to join me in dialogue. For us this will be a “frank and candid exchange.”

For a start, Karl writes, “By the way, I never lost my faith in the common good, or the ethical good. I did not lose my profession of Christian theological belief; I, very thoughtfully and carefully, laid it down, and I know just where I left it, when and why.”

But his clarification assumes a great deal. First, Karl himself had wondered if he ever, indeed, held the beliefs he now says he put aside. (For my part, I think that he did accept the faith; that he did accept baptism; that he did share in the Eucharist.) Second, what one claims to have been a thoughtful decision, might not have been. Karl’s current claim that Catholicism is incompatible with science seems poorly informed, and his advocacy of “free love” patently undercuts the good of the family, the foundational social good that animates the larger common good.

Karl, more pointedly, is wary of “New Oxford Review folks.” He admits that he doesn’t know us well but doubts our commitment to “real social action.” He finds us “to be more interested in rhetoric, wish-fulfillment myths and what we honestly called ‘Catholic apologetics’ in the 50s and 60s.” Again, Karl seems to assume more than he should. For a start, as a journal of opinion, the NOR focuses on education. Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, would call our work “the clarification of thought.” Moreover, action without thought is only reaction. The word “theory” comes from a Greek word for “seeing,” and without a vision the people die.

So, what about our “rhetoric” and “wish-fulfillment myths”? While our writers sometimes indulge in stylistic extravagance, the NOR operates by constructing sound arguments, that is, formally valid arguments with true premises. Only such arguments guarantee true conclusions! In any case, the truth of the Catholic faith is far too extraordinary to be the product of wish-fulfillment. Revelation brings Good News that, apart from God’s intervention, takes us far beyond our limited imagination. Ludwig Feuerbach’s patchwork projected God might give us the European Union writ large, but not the loving Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

And what of the specter of “Catholic apologetics”? Dear friend, are you thinking of an artifact retrieved from the dustbin of the triumphalist 50s and 60s? We plead not guilty. Our apologetics takes the form of having a reason for the hope that lives within us (1 Peter 3:15). Proclamation of the Gospel, and witness to it, always comes first. But Jesus engaged in apologetics in answering the Pharisees; so did Augustine in disputing with the Romans, Aquinas with the Albigensians, and John Paul II with the Marxists. (Please allow an aside: some decades back, Irving Howe, the late editor of Dissent, had a piece in the NOR that displayed his skill in socialist apologetics.)

May I shift now from apologetics to apologies? You tell me, Karl, that you “have no apologies for what I believe, and not a whole lot for what I do.” In recent decades, with leadership from the popes, Catholics have apologized for much that has been done by and in this Church of ours that James Joyce referred to as “here comes everybody.” For my part, I have much for which to seek forgiveness. As a “wannabe” moral and spiritual athlete, I’m pretty much of a flop. That’s why I need amazing grace.

Enough for today. I look forward to hearing back from you, happy and nonviolent warrior that you remain!


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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