By Bill Fitzgerald
Publisher: Loyola University Press
Review Author: Bill Fitzgerald
Among the canons of the reviewer is the duty of acknowledging any significant connection with the author of the work reviewed. I am proud to acknowledge that I was a student of George H. Dunne, S.J., at Loyola University (now Loyola Marymount University) in Los Angeles during the academic year 19461947. Throughout my life he has been a cherished inspiration, especially on the issues of race, ecumenism, and economic justice, and an exemplar of the proposition that scholarship and political activism are not opposites but correlatives. Those of us fortunate to have known Fr. Dunne for a lifetime will be called to a renewal of concern for those values in reading his memoirs. Readers who come to his book with little or no prior exposure to the man are in for not a few shocks.
The Catholic Church in which Dunn was baptized in 1905, the Loyola where he was educated as a high school, college, and law school student from 1918 to 1926, and the Jesuit order he joined in 1926 are all significantly altered institutions today. So, two haunting questions recur throughout this book. One, did administrators in the hierarchies of Church and order really behave this way? They did. Two, why did Dunne continue to function within structures that so often and so crucially assaulted his deeply rooted sense of justice and dignity? The second question is the one with which these memoirs deal. The response is, like the man, complex.
What was it like for a person of Dunne’s intelligence, courage, and conviction to function within institutional constraints that censured and then banned him from St. Louis University in 1946 for promoting full black-white integration of the student body? Constraints that caused him to be banished from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1947 for his work with the Catholic Interracial Council and his efforts on behalf of labor union reform in the film industry? Restraints such as the ban on any involvement with the National Conference of Christians and Jews during his graduate student days at the University of Chicago in the early 1940s?
The facts detailed in the previous paragraph are central to Dunne’s story, but the tension he has experienced for a lifetime is revealed in his own words concerning a possible return to China in 1945 (he had served in the missions there from 1932 to 1936): “I wished neither to return to China, nor did I wish not to return to China. I accepted whatever decision the superior — himself — should make. That was my understanding of Ignatian indifference.”
Discipline, knowing how to take and give orders, is not exclusively a concern of the Church. However, the vow of obedience is a vital part of religious life. After all, obedience is not, as one Jesuit once told me, “doing what your superior would tell you to do if he really understood the situation.” But let us hear Dunne on the subject: “I took refuge in the Jesuit teaching on obedience, which, following Saint Ignatius, maintains that the will of God is manifested to us through the decisions of superiors. I have serious reservations about this doctrine, except when qualified by a strict exegesis. In this situation, however, I fell back upon it and waited for…a decision.” This is not the posture of someone oblivious to the need for authority, intent on his own way because it is his own way. But let us hear more: “I am not disobedient. On the few occasions — and they are all recounted in these memoirs — when a superior has ordered me to abandon a project, I have obeyed, which is not to say that I agreed that his decision was correct.”
Dunne’s memoirs bespeak a life of integrity faced fully in all its paradoxes. They provide a cautionary tale on the uses and abuses of authority. I witnessed two events wherein Loyola Marymount University, where I teach, honored Dunne — in 1975 when he received a medal for distinguished leadership, and in 1986 when he received an honorary degree. But I also saw that same institution banish him from its halls in 1947. How much is lost when we celebrate a maverick 30 or 40 or 400 years after the heroic behavior we could not countenance when it occurred?
Where is the audience for King’s Pawn? A flip response I heard before it was published was, “It’s a book for insiders, inside the order, inside the Church.” I think not. Are you interested in such questions as the clash of conscience and authority, the corrosive effect of institutional racism, the need for persons of all faiths to co-operate enthusiastically in efforts for peace and justice? “Insiders” are inevitably most likely to read it first, but King’s Pawn should not remain an insiders’ book. A number of communities to which George Dunne belonged seemed compelled to cast him out. So let’s “expel” Fr. Dunne for one last time. Only on this occasion it will not be a remonstrance and a rejection; it will be a loving effort to share his gifts of heart and mind and soul.
John Donne: Selections from Divine Poems, Sermons, Devotions, and Prayers
By John Booty
Review Author: Nina Anne M. Greeley
John Donne lived in a time of intense religious and political controversies which profoundly affected his life. Born in 1572 into a recusant Roman Catholic family, he took holy orders in the Anglican Church in his later years, after much consideration and struggle. Though he is most familiar to modern readers through his poetry, his contemporaries knew him primarily as a popular and respected preacher.
Although the question of why Donne made his decision to leave Catholicism continues to fascinate readers, the popularity of his devotional works does not depend on theological controversies. Indeed, while Donne was extremely well versed in theology and canon law, and certainly an able apologist for the Church of England, his letters and poetry demonstrate a belief that, ultimately, a particular church serves as a necessary vehicle for salvation but is not salvation per se. What is vital is that the individual’s choice of religion proceed from a vigorous and absolutely honest search for truth.
His devotional writing, while sometimes difficult in form or language for a modern audience, still moves us today because, like the Psalms, it gives voice to the most universal spiritual experiences. In particular, his works express the Christian tension between full, contrite knowledge of one’s sins and avoidance of the despair such knowledge can bring.
Donne’s divine poetry is particularly attractive because its speaker is so clearly a man of passion. Coming to the priesthood relatively late in life, Donne had much experience in worldly matters of city and court. As a young man he had written love poetry using religious imagery, and his divine poetry often expresses his desire for God in sensual terms. He drew his imagery from every area of study and experience, often using what seemed to later critics indecorous or incongruous metaphors. But this is the quality that prompted T.S. Eliot’s praise.
Donne’s poetry simultaneously shows a dancing, sure wit and a deep humility before God. Thus, his compelling “A Hymne to God the Father” uses clever plays on words in an address to God which overwhelms us with its sense of the enormity of God’s mercy.
This collection will be of great value, not only to students, but especially to those wishing to enrich their own spiritual understanding and experience.
The Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath
By Kevin Phillips
Publisher: Random House
Review Author: Stephen Settle
Kevin Phillips demonstrates that Reaganomics was a religion demanding of its adherents an unquestioning evangelistic fervor. As Phillips puts it, “the supply side stalwarts…were not unlike the Jesuits of an earlier time or Hawaii-bound nineteenth-century Congregationalist missionaries. Conviction suffused their effort, making investment, free markets and entrepreneurialism a popular cause….” By 1980 America, fed up with feeling guilty over Vietnam and tired of enduring taunts from the Third World, desperately desired to believe in itself again. Who said we should apologize for being the land of opportunity? Thus “what had been vices became virtues. Avarice became achievement — a display, almost, of social fitness.” (Indeed, economic Darwinism, while taking its name from an avowed atheist, has strong parallels with that Puritanism that sees wealth as evidence of one’s favor and “fitness” in the eyes of God. The Horatio Alger myth embodies this predestinarianism. Grace is revealed as gumption.)
The storyline was set; the script demanded a leading man. Enter Ronald Reagan, the P.T. Barnum of political showmanship. Nixon may have become a crook, but Reagan was a con artist from the start, peddling a snake oil prescription for “Morning in America.”
Under Reagan, Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking could be synopsized in two words: Money talks. Dynamic capitalism became for the Reaganistas what santeria was to the Duvaliers. (The term “voodoo economics,” coined by George Bush, had far deeper significance than its author originally intended.) Reagan sought “less to cope with U.S. world decline than to deny it by reenacting past glories. In economic policy this included the conspicuous accumulation and display of wealth,…overseas borrowing to build U.S. industry, and mimicry of the tax cuts and stock market booms of the 1920s.” So, we went from being the world’s leading creditor nation to its leading debtor nation in one decade.
For Reagan the actor, fantasy was a vocation, and most of his audience enthusiastically obliged by suspending all disbelief. However, like Michael Jackson when his hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, reality intruded. The prosperity that was supposed to “trickle down” instead ballooned at the top, creating an economic profile that might best be described as Dolly Partonesque.
Today, half of all federal income tax receipts are targeted to servicing the national debt, while the wealthiest 20 percent pay 11 percent less taxes and the rest of us pay 36 percent more than a decade ago. Everyone seems scared and out for Number One. Whether or not free-market utopianism might’ve worked, tax cuts for the well-to-do were not reinvested, as supply-siders had promised, but blown on weekends at Palm Springs.
George Gilder’s Wealth and Poverty furnished the supplysiders’ bible. A book “brimful of sheer ideological enthusiasm,” it magisterially proclaimed that supply creates its own demand, certainly no news to any narcotics agent. Reagan’s words, “What I want to see above all is that this remains a country where someone can always get rich,” could’ve been the motto of every two-bit dope merchant from Key Biscayne to Olympia Falls. “Miami Vice” showed that money could be ill-gained, but that message was overshadowed by fascination with its power. The word was: Greed is good, so go on, have a taste. America got hooked on junk bonds, and Marx’s line that religion is the opiate of the people cried out for an addendum: Capitalism is their amphetamine. The nation, in short, was enthralled by a fundamentally materialist religion which true-believing Reaganistas propagated with a zeal to shame Mao’s Red Guards.
Phillips has produced a meticulously researched, indeed exhaustive, indictment of economic libertarianism.
Daniel Berrigan: Poetry, Drama, Prose
By Michael True
Review Author: John C. Cort
Among those to whom the name Daniel Berrigan, S.J., is familiar, there are mainly two schools: those to whom he is a national Catholic treasure and those to whom he is a national Catholic disaster. I count myself among the former, although once in the feverish 1960s, disagreeing on the subject of the Black Panthers, I felt the sharp edge of his tongue.
Orbis Books has now given us a treasury of the treasure entitled Daniel Berrigan: Poetry, Drama, Prose, with some new material, but mostly excerpts from articles and his 36 books (nine poetry, 23 prose, one drama, and three “conversations”).
It is curious that, as advocates of peace and nonviolence, he and brother Philip favor forceful tactics. Even Dorothy Day, who loved and supported them, was sometimes critical. After the Catonsville break-in she commented, “I believe in the Golden Rule and if we bust up their offices we can’t complain when they bust up ours. Gandhi never used violence even against inanimate things.”
Even so, Dan’s a gutsy, good guy. Also a good poet, when not being too T.S. Eliot obscure. This passage, above all, I like: “Any and all claims attached to academe, regarding superior moral discernment or development are universally false…. It is rare to find, in theology departments for example, that scripture or a given religious code, is considered binding, or a call to faith. Theology, like every other discipline, is often considered an object of competence, not of faith; dry grist for the mill. Religious traditions, which have historically nourished heroes and saints, are treated as matters of ‘specialty,’ ‘expertise.’ Their outcome in a given instance is nothing like a unitive conscience, political sense or passion, wisdom. None of these. But a small-minded, cold-fish attitude toward the world….”
Lent: The Slow Fast
By Starkey Flythe Jr.
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Review Author: Caroline Mulrooney
In the title story of Starkey Flythe’s Lent: The Slow Fast, we meet Jo Ellen, a 30-ish wife and mother of two, who has been appointed head of the food committee in her parish at the very start of Lent. The fat, unctuous Father Peter is so enraptured with her cooking that he asks for more and more meals, keeping Jo Ellen sweating in the parish hall kitchen. Jo Ellen must balance Father Peter’s demands with those of her husband and children. The story opens early Easter morning, with husband Chris demanding sex as Father Peter demands food over the telephone (“We’re all down here and there’s nothing to eat,” he says, helpless and hungry). Jo Ellen finally turns down Father Peter, only to meet the expectant eyes of her family (her husband looks at her, “waiting”). She sees a chocolate egg in one of her children’s Easter baskets; we are told “the thought of taking it from them, against their will, gave her .an odd pleasure,” and the story ends.
The story exemplifies the structure of Flythe’s fictional world, in which there are three elements: the suffering central character; the oppressor, who takes the form of Family, Church, or Society; and the chocolate egg of long deserved indulgence, which the central character might or might not feel the freedom to seize. (The egg appears in only some stories.)
In “For A Good Time Call Matthew,” Jeannie, a recently widowed 30-ish woman, rather indistinguishable from Jo Ellen, admires the physique of 20-ish and carefree Matthew, the boy who mows the lawn. Her husband, we discover through her reflections, was a rigid, don’t smell-the-daisies man; vacations were a waste of time, and fun was “what was the matter with the country.” Thus we have our oppressor, who, ogre-like, allows us to feel good about Jeannie when she grabs her chocolate egg, Matthew. As she kisses him in the bathroom, she feels — yes — good about herself, and here we have Flythe’s prose at its most bland: Jeannie “knows her saying yes is her own answer, nobody else’s, that she is responsible, a person, Jeannie, not an attachment to the social order….”
“Learning Italian” portrays Bea, an 18-year-old college freshman, who accompanies her sister Zanne to get an abortion. Of course, the focus of the story is not the choice made, but rather the general difficulty of living in our complicated society, which makes Bea wonder if she wants to grow up — “the violence of education began to strike her.”
Of course, I have my objections to this sad-sack world view, yet Flythe’s fiction suffers not because of his philosophy — many good writers agree with him — but because it is all he has. He fails to translate his philosophy into good fiction. His oppressors are as routine as those on a sit-com, while his central characters all coalesce into one large blob of sensitivity. Flythe stays very psychologically close to these characters, sympathetically tracing every subtle turn of their thoughts; but the general feeling evoked is always the same, and so we can’t distinguish one character from the next. His characters are robbed of what makes fiction fun — quirkiness, unpredictability, and, most of all, intrigue. There is no flash of evil in the good, no sudden revelation of good in the evil, no mystery of motivations. We are sleepily left to assume that the ogres will remain ogres, and that the down-trodden will someday seize the egg at the end of their long, slow fast.
Inside the Soviet Writers' Union. By John and Carol Garrard
By Henry Milner
Publisher: Free Press
Coining a phrase evocative of his vision of a materialist utopia, Stalin once referred to writers as “the engineers of the soul,” thus deeming the Marxist “soul” as worthy as a hydroelectric plant. John and Carol Garrard’s exhaustive new study provides the melancholy account of how three generations of these “engineers” — poets and novelists, geniuses and hacks — were collectively shaped into an organ of state control. With the carrots of privileged status and the sticks of intimidation and terror, they were corrupted into transforming a Russian literature of towering stature into ideological pap and propaganda.
With a meticulous, sometimes overly dense, detailing of events, the Garrards serve the reader a thick borscht of Russian names and acronyms, the price of commendable scholarship, as they offer another agonizing chapter in the intellectual history of our times. It forces us to confront George Steiner’s thesis, derived from the lessons of totalitarianism, that neither literacy nor “high culture” guarantee an appetite for justice, or a compassionate heart.
While no one who didn’t face the terror can judge even its potential victims, it is still depressing to read of writers, the legatees of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, being treated and, worse, treating others as chattel. Some, with an appetite for power (and a talent for betrayab| became Soviet-style millionaires, while others, brave or stubborn, disappeared into the gulag. Ultimately, the “Union” became more effective in institutional coercion than “Glavlit,” the official censorship organ.
The last two chapters — “The Threat of Glasnost” and “Promise of Perestroika” — are most pertinent and fascinating, and still relevant despite the velocity of current events. (All such books run the risk of instant obsolescence). The role of anti-Semitism and the emergence of “nationalism and chauvinism,” powerful despite the Party-line disavowals, demonstrate the “centrifugal tendencies” which tear at the very center of Comrade Gorbachev’s reeling supra-state.
Finally, most sobering is the degree to which Lenin’s ideology is revealed to be central to the ongoing debates, and to Gorbachev himself. The stifling demands of “socialist realism” have been largely discarded, but the Party, as of this book’s printing, still has a firm grip on the Writers’ Union. In fact, the poet Yevtushenko, a brave man but an “approved radical,” was defeated by the hardliners in his effort to gain union office. And Solzhenitsyn, the first to denounce the cult of Lenin, is still ritually denounced. The “engineering” mentality survives, and now it is, undoubtedly, computer-aided. It seems unlikely that the liberating spirit of literature, the sacred notion of a person as irreducibly unique, will be compatible with any new Soviet “guidance system.”
Perhaps we can hope for a truly free Russian literature when, once again, they call the city on the Neva, “Saint Petersburg.”
Sweden: Social Democracy in Practice
By Judith Stoughton
Publisher: Oxford University Press
“Socialism won’t work,” the conservative intones. The obvious retort is: What about Sweden (not to mention Norway or Austria)? “Well,” shoots back the right-winger, “look at Sweden’s high rates of suicide and alcohol abuse; socialism gives people nothing to live for.” How then could it be, comes the reply, that Sweden has achieved a standard of living that at least matches that of the U.S. — and produces better cars than comparable American models? “Sweden isn’t really socialist,” the conservative answers.
Pity the Swedish socialists: When things seemingly go wrong, they get the blame; when things seemingly go right, they get no credit.
As for the suicide rate, Henry Milner notes in this book that it’s actually typical of advanced non-Catholic countries. Regarding alcohol abuse, Americans consume almost twice as much booze per person as do Swedes.
As for the economy, Milner is persuasive in showing that Swedish socialism’s highly regulated market economy is “different in kind” from the “competitive capitalism” we have in the U.S. For example, some 40 percent of Swedish workers are in the public sector and public expenditures constitute about 70 percent of GNP — figures which would make any conservative see red. By virtue of strong state intervention in the economy by socialist administrations going back to 1932, Sweden has done what free marketeers say is impossible — successfully combine equitable distribution with exemplary productivity, low inflation, and political freedom.
One obvious case of socialism’s success in Sweden is its socialized health care system: Sweden spends less of its GNP on health care than the U.S., but has a significantly lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy. Moreover, Sweden has the lowest level of income inequality of any Western society; 17 percent of Americans are below the poverty line but only five percent of Swedes are; and the crime rate is over 10 times higher in the U.S. than in Sweden. Understandably, not even Sweden’s conservative party is hospitable to Reaganite/Thatcherite policies.
But aren’t taxes high? Yes, but Swedes are smart enough — and moral enough — to appreciate that what they pay, they pay to themselves, their loved ones, and neighbors (fortunately, Swedish public administration is cost-effective). High taxes don’t discourage Swedes from working hard, much of that being due to what Milner calls “the inherited Lutheran work ethic.” Inherited, indeed! Sweden is now highly secular, and its family structure is in trouble (as is America’s), and one wonders how long Swedes will be able to live off their Lutheran moral capital.
When one hears the term “welfare state,” one often thinks of people loafing around on a dole. But in Sweden “welfare” is focused on getting people into the labor force and helping those already working, and the unemployment rate in Sweden is less than half that of the U.S. Yet, much of the success of socialism in Sweden is due to the people’s ingrained desire to work productively. Where the work ethic is weak (as in, say, Panama or America’s ghettoes), one wonders how socialism could work — indeed, how any economic system could function well. As Milner says, “Culture matters….”
This is where American liberals could learn something: It’s great to design programs for the disadvantaged, but if those programs don’t provide incentives to work and if a disproportionate number of the recipients are moral cripples, those programs aren’t going to accomplish much. In spite of its secularity, Sweden enjoys a moral consensus about work and about helping one another, and America’s “rights” minded liberals have been tragically inattentive to such issues of moral context.
Sweden is no utopia, no substitute for the Kingdom of God — but it does give evidence that it’s possible to do better than capitalism, that “do-gooders” can do well, even in economics.
Proud Donkey of Schaerbeek: Ade Bethune, Catholic Worker Artist
Publisher: North Star Press (P.O. Box 451, St. Cloud, MN 56302)
Ade Bethune, who was born in the Schaerbeek section of Brussels and now resides in Newport, R.I., is one of Belgium’s great gifts to the Catholic Church and to America.
Perhaps most renowned for her striking black and white illustrations for The Catholic Worker, her Church-centered work also includes stained glass windows, massive mosaics, candle holders, and tapestries. Her art is heartening for the bold and strong and unsentimental ways in which it presents the Gospel — not unlike Dorothy Day’s style of Gospel-living.
This book, containing the story of Bethune’s life and over 300 illustrations (37 in color), is a treasure and an inspiration.
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