Unworthy of Intelligent Discussion
One of the reasons I continue to read the NOR is that I often find there intelligent presentations of positions with which I disagree. But several of the pieces in the Jan.-Feb. issue contain statements really unworthy of an intelligent discussion.
Take the case of Christopher Derrick’s column on “Humanity’s Ancient and Passionate Love Affair with War.” It is liberally laced with assertions for which no evidence is (or can be) given.
For example, he gives as his reason why there has always been so much war that “peaceful alternatives were always there, but they were not desired so passionately.” What was the peaceful alternative to the Prussian invasion of neutral Belgium in 1914 and the successive German annexations that led to World War II? (If he means surrender to any aggressor under any conditions, then let him at least say so.)
Still, the perigee of Derrick’s flights of fancy is perhaps slightly attenuated when he may suspect too many obvious historical facts which would contradict his thesis. When the events take place in pre-history, he goes completely out of orbit. His view on “various sports, teams sports especially,” is that “they weren’t always so innocent. Their distant roots are military, anthropologically speaking, and they still retain the character of ritualized tribal warfare.” This is mere fancy — which may or may not correspond to fact. There is no way to prove it, which may explain why no proof is attempted. What evidence would Derrick adduce — what evidence could he possibly adduce — that would demonstrate that in the hundreds of thousands of years before recorded history people kicked each others’ skulls instead of footballs? Of course, the skulls (often cracked) are still with us and no one has found any pre-historic pigskins. But we haven’t found any paleolithic pants either. Yet that doesn’t mean the “distant roots” of the pants we haven’t found are in the stone hatchets we have.
If Derrick wants to propose that there has been a historically verifiable and inordinate desire for war rooted in the hearts of fallen man, or that team sports are often motivated more by a desire for violence than by the thrill of athletic achievement, then let him say so and give us some evidence. But his unmeasured assertions only discourage anyone who might be seeking the truth and arouse those who might in fact prefer peaceful alternatives to belligerence.
Joseph Fessio, S.J.
San Francisco, California
Reading Andrew Greeley's Statistics
In the Jan.-Feb. symposium on dissenters in and around the Catholic Church, Msgr. Richard Malone attempts to use Fr. Andrew Greeley’s sociological studies to contend that “it is tempting to presume that these results [i.e., slow but constant decline in Mass attendance, vocations, and the use of the sacrament of Penance] can be attributed to their [the dissenters’] activity.” A closer reading of Greeley will show, rather, that the “Magisterial” teaching called Humanae Vitae has had the single most deleterious effect on the loyalty of Catholics to their church.
Uneasy With Avery Dulles
I have always been pleased with NOR precisely because you are one of the very few really orthodox Catholic publications in the U.S. — that is, not only have you always adhered to those teachings of the Magisterium that are so often controverted by the well-known dissenters, such as Küng, Curran, et al., but you have also always understood that the Church’s social teaching is anti-capitalist, something that so many Catholics in America find difficult to grasp. Therefore I was disturbed to find in the Jan.-Feb. issue some manifestations of the very dissenting mentality that both America and The Wanderer exhibit in their very different ways. Why you considered Fr. Avery Dulles as orthodox and why you invited him to contribute to your symposium I do not know, but I hope that the NOR will dissociate itself from his contribution.
First, he throws out more than one red herring, such as setting up the dichotomy between irreformable and reformable official teaching, though the First Vatican Council stated that Catholics are bound to believe all the Church’s teaching, whether coming from her extraordinary or ordinary Magisterium; then he lists a number of “official positions” which he asserts have been “revised or abandoned,” an interesting mixture of cautionary prohibitions which indeed have been modified or abandoned and dogmas which are often today presented with much different emphasis, but which have not essentially changed. In fact, Dulles almost seems to admit that his list is so much of a smokescreen, since he says that “although one might quarrel with one or another of these examples, they may be taken in globo to illustrate sufficiently” his point. In other words, though each of his examples can be faulted, together somehow they support his position. After this, his discussion of dissenters, all moderate and well-meaning men apparently, seems to me to indicate clearly his stand. It is not with the Faith once delivered to the saints.
It is important to remember that the capitalist challengers to the Church’s social teachings sometimes advance the argument that these are part of the official yet somehow reformable teaching of the Catholic Church. And it is true, one cannot find definite ex cathedra anathemas toward those who love the free market. Yet I think it is fair to say that everyone who has studied the social encyclicals carefully and with an open mind knows that the logic of a Catholic social order and the logic of free-market capitalism are totally opposed. We should beware lest we accept the position of those who attack the Faith on supposedly nonessential points and find that we have given away the ground to Michael Novak and his kind. For if we accept Curran we must accept Novak.
I hope NOR will continue to gleefully and forcefully bash capitalism, yes, but capitalism along with contraception, the free market along with priestesses, in short everything that goes contrary to the Church’s Magisterium, ordinary and extraordinary.
Ed. Note: We will continue to bash away. But you have misconstrued Dulles’s piece.
He allows that “one might quarrel with one or another” of his examples of development in official teaching, but this does not mean he is saying, as you contend, that “each of his examples can be faulted.” Nor does Dulles say that “all” dissenting theologians are “moderate and well meaning.” Hardly. Read his contribution again!
Dulles makes it clear that to be a Catholic is to accept the teachings of both the extraordinary and ordinary Magisterium. But because not all teachings are infallible or irreformable, theological experts “firmly committed to the creeds and dogmas” may question certain teachings in the interests of doctrinal development, if, among other things, the questioning is done in a way that does not give scandal — i.e., does not constitute a partisan public crusade. The challenges of both Curran and Novak do give scandal. Moreover, we at the NOR repudiate not only the manner in which they have mounted their challenges, but the substance of their challenges as well.
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