Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: January-February 1993

January-February 1993

Casting Boulders

As a spiritual pilgrim lost in space somewhere between Wheaton, Canterbury, and Rome, I can’t help but com­ment on the two letters (Nov. 1992) that followed Michelle Bobier’s article, “A Baptist Among the Episcopalians” (July-Aug. 1992). James N. Ward’s sarcastic diatribe marks him as a good candidate for the Grand Inquis­itor. In contrast, Edwina Con­ason’s more understanding, compassionate, and merciful response might have been penned by St. Teresa of Avila.

Here are some of Ward’s terms: “offensive,” “ego-grat­ifying,” “insulting,” “pretty bauble,” “nauseating,” “loath­some,” “pseudo-Christian,” and “vile.” Casting a final boulder, he refers to the “blood of priests” shed by her “co-religionist Cromwell.” God Almighty, what about the “blood of the Anabaptists” on the hands of his “co-religion­ists”?

I can’t help but be re­minded of the moving sermon preached by a Presbyterian from Ghana in a largely Islamic Middle Eastern country to a congregation that somehow managed to embrace Catholics, Copts, Pentecostalists, and as­sorted other Protestants from a dozen different countries, all under one roof. “When you’re one of the few on the firing line against seemingly enor­mous odds, you don’t particu­larly care about the color of the uniforms of those next to you,” he said. It seems to me that Conason is selflessly tending the wounded. Meanwhile, Ward has apparently taken it upon himself to abuse those around him for the fact that their boots, buttons, and belt buckles aren’t properly shined.

Jonathan S. Addleton

U.S. Naval Academy

Washington, D.C.

In commenting on James N. Ward’s letter (Nov. 1992) re­sponding to the reflections of Michelle Bobier, a Baptist, on attending high-Episcopal (An­glo-Catholic) services, I must admit that I found the tone and content of his letter somewhat irritating.

Ward, who describes him­self as an Anglo-Catholic, finds Bobier’s practice of receiving communion objectionable. Per­haps the minister in the “Catholic” parish Bobier at­tends is like many clergy in that he fails to instruct the people in his (or her) congregation. Or perhaps, as is the case in many Episcopal parish­es, all baptized Christians are welcomed to the altar, in which case Bobier can hardly be blamed for behaving in a manner so shocking to Ward.

Ward finds the Bobiers’ use of incense at home nau­seating. He wrote, “As a Bap­tist, she should know the pas­sage of Leviticus applies here, that holy incense is just that, holy and not to be used in the home because it is for the ceremonies of the Church.” As a “Catholic,” Ward should know that the use of incense in homes is a common practice among Orthodox Catholics, as I am sure it is among Roman Catholics. It would appear that Ward would do well to read a little more about the tradition he claims to hold in such high regard.

Like Bobier, my first encounter with historic Christianity came about through Angli­canism. I suppose I am like many others in that my jour­ney into Orthodox Christianity included several years in the Protestant communion closest to Catholicism. Certainly many Roman Catholics walked the same path. And that path is unfortunately littered with the likes of Ward. One can only pray that those still searching for their true home will not be turned back or discouraged by such obstacles.

Miles Belcher

Michigan State University

Orlando, Florida

The two letters in the November 1992 issue criticizing Mi­chelle Bobier’s article, “A Bap­tist Among the Episcopalians,” are logically sound, but miss much of Bobier’s point.

I am a Southern Baptist turned Presbyterian turned Episcopalian, and I understand exactly what Bobier means by being attracted to and spir­itually fed, or at least aided, by the beauty of Anglo-Catholic worship. And I also took communion long before I really had a handle on Anglo­-Catholic eucharistic teaching, and certainly long before I was confirmed.

My point is that many actual or would-be converts to Episcopalianism from the evangelical world are, indeed, first drawn, in a way they don’t understand, by the beau­ty of it all, by the community of it all, etc. The aesthetic and sensuous starkness of Baptist worship and church life are things that maybe Bobier’s critics should look into before they so harshly judge what for her is no doubt something very beautiful, very spiritual, and — like my own experience — very much orchestrated by God.

M.J. Logsdon

Salinas, California

A Dead Heat

Thomas Storck’s “The Su­perficiality of ‘Left’ & ‘Right'” (Oct. 1992) in effect explained why so many of us who look to the Catholic Church for moral direction are totally frustrated by the ideologies of both major political parties. Our positions are dictated by what seems best for people. We are strong­ly moved by compassion for the less fortunate and want government to work more ac­tively to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. That makes us Democrats. But we are ap­palled by the collapse of the traditional family via easy divorce, casual sex, uncommit­ted fathers, massive abortion, the perversity of primetime television, etc. This leads us toward the Republicans.

In fact, we are uncom­fortable with both parties. Many of us feel unwelcome in the Democratic Party, which has all but been taken over by pro-abortionists. Still, we have no desire to be co-opted by trickle-down Republicans. It would be nice if one could say that the family issues clearly outweigh the social-justice issues, or vice versa, but this writer finds it to be a dead heat.

If this were Europe we would found an authentic Christian Democratic party and consistently stand for Christian values. That doesn’t work here. Will Storck or someone else tell us what will?

James R. McCormick

Traverse City, Michigan

More Technology, Not Less

Joyce Little’s statement in her November 1992 article, “Tech­nology’s Conquest of Man,” that science and technology have not liberated us is a distortion of the facts. And when she claims that men with “technological mindsets” assume that the world is en­tirely at the disposal of human power and manipulation and set themselves against nature, she maligns outstanding scien­tist-technologists such as Fauci, Salk, and B. Blumberg.

Contrary to what she as­serts, technologies have been liberating. Are eyeglasses, elec­tric power, vaccines, and mod­ern sanitation systems symbols of evil? She calumniates men and women who have liber­ated mankind from drudgery, disease, and malnutrition.

God and Science are not exclusionary. Their “mindsets” are not mutually exclusive. The renaissance men of Italy (in­cluding Galileo Galilei, whom Little does not mention among the founders of science) be­lieved in the biblical view that man was made in the image of God and hence had the potential to be God-like. Some of the great men of science have looked upon nature and the universe with great rev­erence. Science has liberated us from ignorance. And, sadly, re­ligion has often kept us in the dark.

Our technological, discoveries are exploding. The refining of moral systems to control technological choice has lagged behind. Modern medicine is an outstanding example of this dilemma.

Merely acknowledging our humanity, as Little suggests, does not give us the mech­anism to resolve this dilemma. The only way to contain tech­nology is by establishing a moral consensus and social mechanisms of control — in other words, with more tech­nology.

J.A. Raffaele

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Finger Food

I noted with interest the cover of the October 1992 issue, be­cause it promised treatments of two topics I find of great interest — gnosticism and contemporary American cul­ture, and the relationship of positivism to postmodernism. Unfortunately, both pieces were disappointing.

First, in Robert Bellah’s review of Harold Bloom, no advantage is taken of the opportunity to analyze critically the larger role played by gnostic elements in recent American culture. In view of this journal’s past notice of such thinkers as Philip Rieff and Eric Voegelin, I found this particularly disappointing. Per­haps the space constraints im­posed by the book-review for­mat discouraged Bellah from entering into a larger discus­sion, but I regard this as a crying need in our times.

Second, Mar’s piece (also a book review), while beginning with a promising title, “Over­reacting to Positivism,” is also disappointing. Mar seems to have no clear idea of what he wants to accomplish in this review. He points out a now-typical retrospective view of positivism, but decries this “oversimplification” even while admitting the tendencies of the Vienna Circle to present a “united front.” Surely this united front, as well as the stunning possibilities for over­simplification embodied in the verificationist theory of mean­ing — together with its ped­agogical attraction as an easily teachable “modern” philosoph­ical super-method, mastery of which enabled every smug sophomore to perceive himself the superior of Plato — has had the most important cul­tural impact. As Larry Laudan says, “intentions are less im­portant here than consequenc­es,”

At least one important similarity between positivism and deconstructive versions of postmodern thought is their providing a readily learned “critical methodology” which functions in practice immediately to discredit tradition (and the obligation to learn some­thing of it) and their becoming intellectual parlor games in­stead, wherein adepts simply submit any grist supplied for consideration to the miraculous treatment of the method. More nuanced treatments of posi­tivism and the road to postmodernity can be found in Leszek Kolakowski’s The Alien­ation of Reason and Stanley Rosen’s Hermeneutics as Politics.

Finally, Mar seems to imagine that the “overreaction” to positivism led to irre­sponsible philosophy of science — he darkly hints at the “dis­credited philosophy of science of the 1960s” and “relativism.” Is this what constitutes “post­modernism” for Mar? It seems to me that Mar is himself guilty of some irresponsible overreaction here. If he means to indict T.S. Kuhn’s influential Structure of Scientific Revolutions, why not give reasons for the indictment? It is not sufficient to airily dismiss Kuhn’s work as “discredited.” The combi­nation of this dismissal with the imputation of an “over­reaction” in the earlier critique of positivism gives the im­pression that Mar is advocating a return to positivism. If so, why not say so clearly? Finally, opposing “positivism” to Kuhn­ian thought vastly over­simplifies the contemporary terrain in philosophy of sci­ence. Process philosophers, realists, and empiricists of various stripes are engaged in ongoing debate.

Prof. Chip Sills

Annapolis, Maryland

Elshtain & Lasch

I’m continuing to learn from and delight in the NOR. Having for years thought of myself as a “secularist” — after leaving my suburban United Methodist church in youthful anger at its unwillingness to challenge the pa­rishioners to any uncomfortable Christianity — I find your journal and a few others compelling both intellectually and intuitively. The articles by Jean Bethke Elshtain and Christopher Lasch are espe­cially important for me. For example, Elshtain’s essay on Czeslaw Milosz’s The Captive Mind (Oct. 1992) is one of the few studies that gives that work the significance it deserves. Lasch’s “Communitarianism or Populism?” (May 1992) clarified my own thinking considerably.

Prof. James Seaton

East Lansing, Michigan

Downhill in Durham

It was interesting to read John Warwick Montgomery’s column about David Jenkins, the incumbent Anglican bishop of Durham, and his bizarre “theology” (Nov. 1992). The last Catholic bishop of Durham was Cuthbert Tunstall, who was deprived of his See by Elizabeth I in 1559 and who died a few weeks later, while interned at Lambeth, still con­fessing the Faith. Obviously, it’s been downhill in Durham ever since.

E.D. Smith

Darien, Illinois

The Papal Norm

Fr. Robert Imbelli (letters, Nov. 1992) cannot be serious. His concept of “sophisticated the­ology” is either tragedy or comedy, but it has no bearing on intellectual rigor. Catholic identity must be, I submit, a matter of theology, but never of sophistry. Above all, Cath­olic identity is fundamentally inseparable from obedience to the authority of the Pope.

How perverse that a Cath­olic priest, seeking high ground in an argument, should cavil at one party’s appeal to papal authority! Is there such a thing as a Journal of Abnormal Theology yet? Can’t be long, can it?

How reassuring that the NOR is the front end of NORmalcy!

J.J. Thom

Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina

Religion, Nationalism & Terminology

John Lukacs’s article in the November 1992 issue was more in­spiring in its account of the life and martyrdom of Franz Jä­gerstätter than it was in il­luminating the conflict between religion and nationalism. Con­cluding that religious faith is incompatible with “that kind” of nationalism — Nazism — he leaves unresolved the question of what kind of nationalism, if any, would be compatible with Christianity. Is “that kind” of nationalism an aberration of an essentially good sentiment, or is nationalism intrinsically anti-Christian?

Some clarification of the much-abused terminology sur­rounding this topic is in order. One must distinguish between aggressive, exclusionary nation­alism and the kind that, in its striving for the survival and recognition of one national group, recognizes the rights of all others. Perhaps “chau­vinism” is a better term for the former, “patriotism” for the latter; “nationalism” is am­biguous.

In practice, the distinction has not been easy, particularly for churchmen caught between stateless nations and multi­national states, between the moral claims of oppressed mi­norities and those of legitimate governments. This has been particularly true in eastern Eu­rope. But in this respect the most difficult (and therefore instructive) cases are likely to be found not in the Latin-rite nations such as Bishop Pro­haszka’s Hungary, but among the eastern churches, whether Catholic or Orthodox. This is because it is eastern tradition that each nation should have its own church, closely tied — especially through her liturgy — to the language and culture of her people. (This contrasts with the tradition of the West, where “national” rites were supplanted by a uniform, supra-national Latin rite — a decision that enhanced the Church’s universality at the expense of a more intimate bond with her faithful — and compelled Chinese or Indian converts to absorb an alien culture rather than receive Christ’s message in culturally familiar terms.) For eastern Christians, the Church is one with the people, and their cause is hers.

Thus, in the eastern churches, the issue of religion and nationalism is at once more grave and more am­biguous. When do a church’s intimate ties with the nation become an unhealthy entan­glement with nationalism?

An instructive example of a churchman who struggled with this dilemma is the Me­tropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky (1865-1944). Raised as a Latin-rite Pole, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church balanced his support for the claims of a disen­franchised minority with Chris­tian condemnation of militant nationalism, through periods of Austrian, Polish, Soviet, and Nazi rule. His careful dis­tinction between Christian pa­triotism and pagan chauvinism is worthy of study.

Nationalism, like fire, can be a force for great good or great evil. It is perhaps essen­tially good, but all too easily perverted. Secularists say as much about religion, not least Catholicism. The matter is complex. Merely to conclude that Christianity and nation­alism are incompatible would be facile, inaccurate, irre­sponsible. And it would de­prive us of a fascinating moral puzzle.

Andrew Sorokowski

San Francisco, California

JOHN LUKACS REPLIES: Yours is a very intelligent let­ter. The distinction is really be­tween nationalism and pa­triotism. Nationalism elevates something that looks real but is abstract — “the people” be­come a myth. Nationalism excludes not only foreigners and minorities but those within the people who do not accept the ideas of nationalists. In con­trast, patriotism is real, con­crete. It is love for a country and its traditions — it is par­ticular, not abstract; it is in­clusive, not exclusive. Patriotism is compatible with Catholic Christianity; nationalism is not.

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