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
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.
Michigan State University
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
You May Also Enjoy
People require outside influences to educe their latent talents, to cultivate the manners and morals that produce civility and intelligence.
All the time, as a child, I heard my mother mention “the sin of pride,”…
Will the Real Pope Francis Please Stand Up?... The Identity of the Family Is in Jeopardy