Volume > Issue > Briefly Reviewed: November 1986

Briefly Reviewed: November 1986

The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth About the New Psychology

By William Kirk Kilpatrick

Publisher: Crossway

Pages: 184

Price: $6.95

Review Author: James G. Hanink

There’s no law that says po­lemical essays cannot be classics nor that a collection of such broadsides might not be of last­ing value. Chesterton comes im­mediately to mind as the master of the genre. William Kirk Kilpatrick’s recent essays, centered on making plain “the naked truth about the new psycholo­gy,” do not yet approach so high a mark. His polemics are, none­theless, lucid and engaging.

Humanistic psychology, Kilpatrick charges, is at root incom­patible with the Christian vision of human nature. Carl Rogers, for example, lives in a moral uni­verse where sin is incomprehensi­ble. Christians, by contrast, find in Christ their redemption — from sin. Kilpatrick ably demon­strates that Christians have not much noticed that two different universes are at issue. He percep­tively identifies one source of Christian obtuseness: at a superficial level the language of psy­chology can seem to mimic the language of Christianity.

If Kilpatrick’s polemics are to be faulted, it is not for lack of critical vigor; it is because their zeal to unmask comes with an excess of spleen-venting. Polem­ics, if they are not to sour, need a constructive vision. When he draws on Alasdair Maclntyre’s account of the virtues and the role of the moral hero, Kilpatrick shows that he has the potential to make his constructive turn. A first question he might tackle is how Christians can integrate the best of recent psychology into a Gospel worldview. A second is how the Christian vision might itself generate a genuinely human­istic psychology.

The Now and Future Church: The Psychology of Being an American Catholic

By Eugene Kennedy

Publisher: Doubleday

Pages: 198

Price: $13.95

Review Author: Joseph A. Varacalli

“This book,” for author Eu­gene Kennedy, “is a series of re­flections on the changes of con­sciousness that have taken place within the American Roman Catholic Church during the twen­tieth century. Its purpose is, therefore, psychological, to deep­en our understanding of an in­tensely personal and communi­tarian experience.” At best, the book’s subtitle is technically in­accurate; what the author pur­ports to be doing can be more ac­curately viewed as an exercise in the sociology of knowledge or in a sociologically-based social psy­chology. At worst, the subtitle is false; the work is of far greater interest as an ideological state­ment for those who would like to see all aspects of churchly and institutional Catholicism dissolve than as any attempt at social sci­entific objectivity.

To his credit, Kennedy has addressed an issue of enormous importance. He is lucid, enthusi­astic, and committed. His book is not devoid of insight; Kennedy is easily at his best when exposing those aspects of the immigrant Church that were provincial at best or un-Christian at worst. His major “positive” message is that the Church should place more emphasis on her “sacramental” (as compared to “institutional”) side, and that she should be open to the world, to dialogue, to mystery, and to a far greater in­corporation of the laity.

So much for anything positive I can say about Kennedy’s volume which, in the final analy­sis, is fatally flawed. Most funda­mentally, the author accepts an incredibly naive, simplistic, and unfair unilinear scheme of reli­gious evolution which basically translates into an iron-clad for­mula stating that “the past was bad and ignorant, the present is better and intelligent, and the fu­ture will see things improve fur­ther.” From this formula, many wrongheaded assertions and argu­ments flow forth.

Another indication of Ken­nedy’s simple-mindedness is his assertion that Catholic personal­ities can be unambiguously divid­ed into “good guys” (Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI, Cardinal Dearden, Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Roach, Fr. Karl Rahner, Sister Mary Mansour, among others) and “bad guys” (Pope John Paul II, Pope Pius X, Card­inal Mundelein, Cardinal Cody, Archbishop Szoka, among oth­ers).

Kennedy prophesies that the future Church will be “not only without priests but without Bishops as well.” Instead of view­ing Vatican II as a magnificent accomplishment (and gift) in theoretically reconciling the nec­essary authority of the Magisterium with the sensus fidelium, Kennedy obviously sees the Council as a way-station in the Church’s capitulation to the tem­per of contemporary life. (In­deed, pushing the author’s logic a bit further, one wonders if Ken­nedy really sees any useful future role for any specific religious tra­dition, Catholicism obviously included. This is more than just idle speculation, given the au­thor’s celebration of mythologist Joseph Campbell, whose studies suggest that “what appear to be diverse religious traditions are ac­tually expressions of a unitary experience that is shared across all cultures.”) In sum, it would seem that Kennedy is basically involved in an uncritical celebra­tion of the “secular city.”

The Moral Life of Children

By Robert Coles

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press

Pages: 302

Price: $19.95

Review Author:

Also reviewed:

The Political Life of Children. By Robert Coles. Atlantic Monthly Press. 347 pages. $19.95.

In the past two decades no one has contributed more to the understanding of ourselves than Robert Coles. Scarcely any as­pect of our moral and social ex­istence has eluded his ken. His melding of trenchant insight, animating humaneness, and intuitive empathy has earned him a de­served reputation as one of the most acute and discerning moral witnesses of our time. When Coles touches a subject — wheth­er the existentialist musings of Walker Percy, the dolorous soul-wrestlings of James Agee, or something so seemingly banal as the angry mutterings of an Ala­bama Klansman — it is never quite the same again. It resonates with fresh meaning, yields up deeper layers of significance, il­luminates hidden corners of the soul. With an uncommon grace Robert Coles has encouraged us to contemplate both the misery and grandeur of the life we share in the late 20th century.

Nothing has engaged Coles’s mind and heart so thoroughly and forcefully as the lives of chil­dren — lives that he has sought out in places as diverse as share­croppers’ cabins and mansions of privilege. Trained in psychiatry and the social sciences — disci­plines that bristle with theories and pridefully adduce reduction­ist explanations — he has shun­ned the cheap convenience of theorizing, has eschewed the tidy boxes that impose meaning on the disparate strands of exis­tence. Coles listens to children; he takes their artless reflections seriously, and he recognizes that from their ingenuous observa­tions can come a wisdom that far surpasses the sophisticated posturings and bookish declarations of professional wise men. Out of the mouths of babes comes…what? The Moral Life of Chil­dren and The Political Life of Children reveal the “what”: the mystery of suffering; the vexa­tions engendered by war, civil discord, want, and privation; the immitigable worth of lives har­rowed by emotional trials. Christ said: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, be­cause thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” The words of Coles’s children — South Africans, Brazilians, Asians, Northern Irish, Ameri­cans, and others — speak of these hidden things.

Marxist Analysis and Christian Faith

By René Costes (translated by Roger A. Couture & John C. Cort)

Publisher: Orbis

Pages: 232

Price: $11.95

Review Author:

The most striking thing about this book is its publisher. As was noted in the NOR in 1984, Orbis Books seems to be trying to pull away from its in­fatuation with the extremes of “Christian Marxism” and move back toward the Christian main­stream. This book is further evi­dence of this trend; indeed, the cover itself allows for no misunderstanding: “Marxist Analysis” is printed on a big arrow pointing in one direction while “Christian Faith” appears on another big ar­row pointing in the opposite di­rection.

The author, who is a professor at the Institut Catholique in Toulouse, France, writes from an orthodox Christian perspective. For example, Costes does not hesitate to invoke the category of heresy, as he associates Marx’s black and white view of class struggle with the Manichean her­esy and Marx’s “science” cum philosophy of history with gnos­tic messianism. The author af­firms his total commitment to Jesus Christ and adheres to the “fullness of the Christian faith,” from the Virgin Birth to the Res­urrection of the Dead. And intriguingly, he notes his “funda­mental reservations” about Hans Küng’s book On Being a Chris­tian.

Does this make Costes a neoconservative? Not at all. While he says he is “fiercely opposed to the dictatorship, the to­talitarianism, the omnipresent and omnipotent bureaucracy” that characterize Communist so­cieties, he speaks of “my [non-Manichean] solidarity with the working class, to which I belong by social origin” and he identifies himself as a (non-Marxist) so­cialist, adding that a non-Marxist democratic socialism “is entirely consistent with the fundamental goals of the Christian faith for…life in society.” Indeed, his two theological heroes are Nicho­las Berdyaev and Karl Barth, both socialists. Berdyaev was an idiosyncratic “personalist social­ist” and Barth a member of the Swiss Social Democratic Party and later the German Social Democratic Party.

Costes is very clear-eyed about the essential continuity be­tween Marx and Engels on the one hand and Lenin and contem­porary Communists on the other, and about the deep hostility to Christianity shown by Marx and Engels and the vast majority of latter-day Marxists. While Costes acknowledges that there are revi­sionist Marxists whose hostility to Christianity is often attenuated, he does not get rhapsodic about their significance for Marxist-Christian conversations, for he recognizes them for the dissident and outcast minority that they are in the world Communist movement; he implies that they are not “consistent Marxists,” adding that the expulsion of the revisionist Roger Garaudy from the French Communist Party was “understandable.”

While there are Christians who claim to be able to appropri­ate Marxist sociological “analy­sis” without embracing Marx­ism’s philosophical materialism and atheism, and while Costes ac­knowledges that such a distinction can be made, he takes a rather dim view of the viability of such a project, noting in pass­ing that orthodox Marxists do not allow for any such dichoto­my.

While Costes is clearly op­posed to communism and Marx­ism, he does not allow himself to fall into the simplicism of equat­ing communism with Nazism. As an antidote to such a view, he quotes from Barth (writing in 1949) to the effect that we should discriminate between Communism’s “totalitarian atrocities as such and the positive intention behind them.” In so doing, “one cannot say of com­munism what one was forced to say of Nazism,” namely, that what it meant and intended was “pure unreason.” (Inasmuch as Catholic sacramental theology places great emphasis on the cat­egory of intention, it is interest­ing that the Protestant Barth should invoke intention in this way.)

Because this book steers a sensible course between the ex­tremes of Christian capitulation to Marxism and Christian anti-communist crusading, it is a salutary one. It is unfortunate, how­ever, to have to report that the book suffers from two serious weaknesses: (1) It is a 1985 translation of a book that origi­nally appeared in French back in 1976. As a contribution to the dialogue and debate between Marxists and Christians, it is woe­fully dated and adds little be­yond its refreshing perspective. (2) It is the kind of book that will not convince those who are not already convinced of its point of view. The author’s ar­guments are sketchy and unde­veloped. He incessantly tells us what he likes or dislikes about this or that, and he strings lengthy quote upon lengthy quote, often with little commen­tary beyond an indication of whether he agrees or disagrees with the quote. This is no sub­stitute for sustained analysis of the questions he raises. This is especially sad because the book is a source of encouragement in other regards.

 

© 1986 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

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