Briefly Reviewed: June 1984
Clear and Present Danger: Church and State in a Post-Christian America
By William Stanmeyer
Price: No price given
Review Author: Joseph A. Varacalli
This book makes the case that an atheistic humanistic agenda is being progressively institutionalized in the U.S. through the successful efforts of a highly elitist and unrepresentative “militant secularist intelligentsia.”
Stanmeyer’s thesis is stated by himself most clearly: “A society not long ago Christian is now pagan…three decades ago, the secularist humanist voice was scarcely heard in public policy; two decades ago, it was one among a few; one decade ago, it became the loudest and most influential; in the decade to come, it will seek to silence all other voices. [The] goal will be to reduce Christian influence on public morality to be the most token and accidental of sorts.”
The secularization of a once Christian culture, for Stanmeyer, manifests itself in the aggregate of the following trends: “expanding government control — a near monopoly — over schools on every level; the purging of all Christian teaching and symbols from these schools; the introduction of relativistic sex education…the enthusiasm of scientists for biological engineering…abandonment of the Hippocratic oath’s prohibition of abortion…legal changes setting the stage for euthanasia; advancement of the theory of legal positivism — law is what the State says it is and there is no ‘higher’ law to judge it…widespread statist anti-family policies; abdication of the state’s responsibility, through the laws, to uphold a modicum of public morality and decency, through excessive toleration of pornography; the desuetude of laws designed to discourage the practice of homosexuality; and the domination over the communication media … by persons who approve these trends.”
Stanmeyer does not stop at merely analyzing trends from what would appear to be a fundamentalist Christian perspective; he also argues for the formation of “Christian political action groups.” These groups would promote candidates, legislation, and public attitudes in favor of traditional public morality: “protection for unborn children”; “a respected place for God in public education”; “repealing laws and rules that discriminate against private education”; “the withdrawal of public schools from instruction in areas where…the spiritual values they inculcate are amoral if not immoral…[such as] sex education”; “public policies that give the classical family…encouragement”; “economic arrangements that encourage individuals and families to solve their own problems and care for their needs, rather than pass them on to…the State”; and “a national financial policy that reduces public debt and stabilizes our currency so that it maintains real value.”
On the one hand, I find the author’s analysis of present-day Church-State relations to be scholarly, intelligent, and compelling. On the other hand, many of Stanmeyer’s assumptions and solutions are questionable. For example, while I agree with Stanmeyer that liberation theology reduces Christianity to purely secular themes, the author perhaps fails to realize fully that the particular political activity he seems to champion — that of the Moral Majority — comes close to an idolatrous worship of the American nation and of its attendant socioeconomic philosophy of capitalism. Religious reductionism — whether in the name of Marxism or Americanism — is religious reductionism!
Secondly, I am unconvinced that the present American age constitutes a fall from the grace of some allegedly “purer” Christian era. The Christian enemy today is the secularist; the Christian enemy of a pre-1950 America was the hypocritical Christian. The historical track record of “Christian America” is neither very Christian nor provides much of a standard to emulate. If it is true, to quote the historian Ranke, that “each age is immediate unto God,” then it holds likewise that every age is distant from Christ-like perfection. The devil changes shape and color from age to age.
Stanmeyer obviously hopes that his work will encourage an evangelical-Catholic political alliance against secularism. But to the degree that his work ignores the secularization fostered by his own Americanist and capitalist brand of Christianity, Stanmeyer should not expect much support from fellow Christians.
Pope John Paul II and the Family
By Edited by Michael J. Wrenn
Publisher: Franciscan Herald Press
Review Author: Stuart Gudowitz
To try to maintain, not simply the ideal, but the actuality of Christian family life in a society riddled with divorce and individualism is a daunting task. Surely Pope John Paul II realizes this, and it was doubtless one important reason for his issuance in 1981 of the apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio. In this remarkable document, John Paul both recalled the dignity of Christian family life and sought to assist, strengthen, and nourish it.
Pope John Paul II and the Family is an excellent commentary on the apostolic exhortation, and an example of constructive Catholic scholarship in that it seeks to deepen our understanding of Church teaching rather than undermine or “correct” it. Moreover, it is a fine example of commentary in that it elucidates Familiaris Consortio rather than burying it beneath layers of excess verbiage.
It is, of course, impossible here to examine all 11 essays that comprise the commentary. All are well worth reading, though perhaps the last four, which deal with pastoral care of the family, will be of interest to bishops, priests, and social workers rather than to ordinary laymen.
Joseph Boyle of the University of St. Thomas deals with an aspect of Familiaris Consortio that I noticed right away, perhaps because of my gender: “It may appear that the Holy Father is being very hard on fathers. After speaking…about women’s rights…he lays out a series of rather difficult obligations for fathers.” Boyle goes on to explain that the reason for this is that fatherhood “is a vocation that includes considerable authority.” John Paul is so very careful to stress the duties of fathers because “authority for the Christian is not to be used for self-aggrandizement but…is a ministry of service.”
Fr. James T. O’Connor of St. Joseph’s Seminary makes an outstanding contribution with his essay on “The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family.” O’Connor insists that marriage should be seen in the light of man’s calling to eternal life and that “the doctrine of the Catholic Church on marriage and family life rests not simply on deductions from principles of natural law — as so often seems to be presumed — but on the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself.”
Decades ago, the Catholic writer Charles Peguy said that the true revolutionaries were the fathers of Christian families. The mission of Christian families is indeed revolutionary in that they follow the mission of the Savior to bring to glory a fallen race. It would not be easy to overestimate the good that this commentary might do in helping Catholics respond to and implement the Holy Father’s gift to families that is Familiaris Consortio. It might even be helpful for Christians not in communion with the Holy See, but who are appalled at the state of the family, to absorb some of the ancient wisdom of the Church on these matters. For the sake of Christian family life,we should hope that this book is widely read.
The Christian Trinity in History: Studies in Historical Theology, Vol. I
By Bertrand de Margerie, S.J.
Publisher: St. Bede’s Publications
Review Author: William G. Most
Is it right to say: “The Most Holy Trinity is a profound mystery which we cannot hope to understand. Since we cannot explain how there can be three Persons — each of whom is God — yet only one God, all we can do is believe and adore”? By no means should we stop there. There is much more that can be done, even though we must agree that with all possible learning we cannot solve the mystery.
In this extraordinary and profound work, Fr. de Margerie shows how much further we can go. Through a thorough history of the Trinity, de Margerie leads us to a deeper understanding of the mystery that has confronted 20 centuries of Christian thinkers. And in his presentation de Margerie shows both excellent judgment and a remarkable openness to a wide variety of thinkers.
Those of us who have read other works by the author anticipate that he will consider all parts of the theological spectrum, and do what the ancient Romans proposed: learn even from the enemy. So, happily, we find de Margerie drawing on a tremendous number of writers — ancient, medieval, and modern — to search out what is good in each.
This is a profound work, not meant for light reading late at night. But it is rewarding. Rightly did Jaroslav Pelikan note in the Foreword that it is “a remarkable book…it deserves to be read widely.”
Blaze of Recognition: Through the Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations
By Edited by Thomas P. McDonnell
Review Author: Kathryn Denny
In Blaze of Recognition, editor Thomas P. McDonnell has skillfully compiled inspirational selections for every day of the year from the works of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who wrote more than 30 books. Blaze of Recognition is a compendium of Merton passages, from single lines to full paragraphs, which can serve as launching points for spiritual reflection.
Blaze of Recognition does not reach great theological heights or plumb soul-searching depths. Neither does it offer the dime-store-calendar type of happy thoughts so readers can “have a nice day” 365 times. Rather, these Merton selections are intended to spark the reader’s own reflections. Merton himself considered it a waste of time to pick up a book of meditations and simply read through it. He suggests that “as soon as any thought stimulates your mind or heart, you can put the book down because your meditation has begun.”
That seems to be the best use of this collection of Merton reflections — as one of several sources to call one’s attention to the mind and will and beauty of God during daily meditation.
Because we happened to indicate in our October editorial that Managing Editor Elena M. Vree was expecting our third child, it would be remiss of us not to indicate the outcome.
So: On March 20, Magdalena Ines Vree was born. Both mother and child are healthy and doing very well, and we are once again reminded that a new arrival is truly a gift from God.
We want to thank those of you who wrote us (about the then-upcoming delivery) for your prayers, kindness, and displays of concern.
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