Volume > Issue > Briefly Reviewed: June 1984

Briefly Reviewed: June 1984

Clear and Present Danger: Church and State in a Post-Christian America

By William Stanmeyer

Publisher: Servant

Pages: 317

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

Pages: 379

Price: $15

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

Pages: 387

Price: $29.95

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

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 227

Price: $14.95

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.



New Arrival

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.

— Ed.





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