Norman Lear? Cancel!
To paraphrase John Cort, there have been few times in my life when I have been more ashamed of being a Catholic than when I read your April issue. Cort’s knee-jerk America-bashing piece on Panama and El Salvador was bad enough; as usual, it’s not that his facts are wrong, he doesn’t have any — facts might disturb his subjective, aestheticist wallowing. But this is the sort of pooh-bah I have learned to accept from you.
What I have not learned to (and refuse to) accept was your giving nine (!) pages to that former furniture salesman and, more recently, purveyor of low-grade degenerate sleaze to television audiences, Norman Lear. Forget his honeyed words and vague sentimental references to cosmic forces — these obviously intended to lull “the enemy” into comforted slumber (seemed to work). Make no mistake, we are the enemy in Lear’s mind. Where is your discernment of spirits? And whom are we to expect to see appear next in your pages — Ted Turner?
Never mind, I’ve seen enough. Cancel my subscription immediately. And how can I subscribe to Crisis? Putting a critique of it into the April issue made it very appealing to me.
My best regards to you in the as-yet-unliberated People’s Republic of Berkeley.
Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
San Francisco, California
Ed. Note: Rarely does a public figure admit his shortcomings. In his piece Norman Lear was big enough to speak of his past failure to perceive the spiritual emptiness of our culture. You might as well forget Crisis: It was big enough to applaud Lear’s words.
Norman Lear’s article (Apribpbetrays his ignorance of the kind of people who make up what he refers to as the “Religious Right.” He claims that “the leaders of the Religious Right have shamelessly exploited people’s personal desolation for their own ends.” Excluding obvious frauds like Jim and Tammy Bakker, leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson just happened to come on the scene at the right time. Falwell et al. did not create the Religious Right. Grassroots supporters of traditional religious values created it. They were the people who were wise enough to remain faithful to their beliefs while Norman Lear was promoting sexually liberating attitudes on shows like Maude and All in the Family.
The controversy over questionable “artworks” is a good example of Lear’s ignorance of the attitude of most average Americans. The National Endowment for the Arts has supported the exhibition of several artworks which are offensive to Christians, including one of Christ as a drug addict, and another of Christ submerged in the “artist’s” urine. When a religious leader, the Rev. Donald Wildmon, began a campaign against using taxpayer funds to support such “art,” Lear’s organization, People for the American Way, began to attack Wildmon. PAW’s western director, Michael Hudson, said, “They have touched off a flood of mail to Congress by citizens taken in by Religious Right propaganda.” Apparently Hudson also believes that average Americans don’t mind if their tax dollars are used to pay for offensive artwork, and only reacted to the issue because Don Wildmon told them to. In truth, Wildmon only told them something they had a right to know. Had people read about the art in a newspaper or seen it on television, the reaction would have been the same.
As an average American homemaker, I am outraged that such perverse “art” is being funded by my tax dollars. I have written my representatives in Congress to protest, and will continue to write, whether or not I get a letter from Don Wildmon or Jerry Falwell or anyone else.
Sister Ruth Bickett
Norman Lear’s “Nurturing Spirituality & Religion in an Age of Science & Technology” (Apribpwas a classic.
That Dynastic Itch
Ken Russell’s column on America’s fascination with royalty (Apribpwas very good. Indeed, there is a hunger for dynasties. Consider the Taft dynasty, the Roosevelt dynasty, and all the people who have talked as though Teddy Kennedy has more or less had the rights of a Crown Prince. Then there is the quasi-dynastic use of Roman numerals, as in John D. Rockefeller III, et al.
In my experience on both sides of the Atlantic, a deeply reverential tone of voice is much more frequently used by Americans when saying, “The President of the United States” than by English people when saying, “The Queen” or even (though this is very seldom said), “Her Majesty the Queen.”
Fr. Russell was particularly good toward the end, when he took up the theme of the forgotten Cross. But he shouldn’t have repeated the old imprecision of saying that the Brigade of Guards (Coldstream) wear “busbies.” That’s quite a different sort of headgear. That worn by the Guards is called a “bearskin” — though I must confess that it’s now made of nylon, on account of various protests from Bears’ Lib.
Defending Thomas Paine
While hacking away at Hannah Arendt and her work, John Lukacs makes an inappropriate and unjustified stab at Thomas Paine by calling him “an irresponsible radical and a fool,” and citing Washington in justification (Aprib~ Paine stands out among his contemporaries as a man who forcefully, continuously, and uninhibitedly defended the idea of liberty and democracy for all, grounding his arguments firmly in reason.
His Common Sense and other works galvanized an often less-than-enthusiastic America for the cause of independence. His discussions with his friend Thomas Jefferson are credited by some with having influenced the content of the Declaration of Independence.
Later, finding himself in revolutionary France, he penned The Rights of Man in reply to Edmund Burke’s scathing attack on the foundations of the French Revolution. In it he demolished the justification for government based on privilege and tradition, and posited in its place government based on rights shared by everyone. He was eventually made a citizen of France as well as a deputy to the National Assembly. As the revolution descended into terror, Paine stood as a singular voice of moderation and reason (to the point of being nearly the last opponent of the execution of Louis XVI), a position that would get him thrown in prison for 10 months (as President, Washington apparently did little or nothing to get him released) and nearly cost him his head. It was here that he wrote the bulk of his last important and most controversial work, The Age of Reason, a public testament to his belief in God, but also about his disbelief in the unreasonable and often cruel dogmas of established religion. If his leveling democracy wasn’t bad enough for many, The Age of Reason was the icing on the cake. Indeed, down into the 20th century this work has given Paine the undeserved reputation of being, as Theodore Roosevelt called him, “a filthy little atheist.”
Paine spent his last years a bitter and disillusioned man, and with good reason. In the United States federalists such as Hamilton, Jay, and Washington were arguing against mass democracy, instead preferring to keep government, in the words of John Adams, in the hands of “the rich, the well born, and the able” (no wonder Washington thought Paine irresponsible!). Independence was one thing, but letting the little people have a say in their government was quite another. In France the revolution that had spawned liberty, equality, and fraternity was quickly heading toward the dictatorship of Bonaparte.
That Paine’s work was and is dangerously radical to monarchs, aristocrats, and all brands of tyrants goes without saying. Calling him an irresponsible fool, however, is simply unfounded, unless Lukacs considers consistent and public intellectual honesty foolish.