Briefly Reviewed: November 1986
The Emperor’s New Clothes: The Naked Truth About the New Psychology
By William Kirk Kilpatrick
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
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
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)
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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