Sometime in the 1970s, during the dreary Ford and Carter years, a friend handed me an issue of The Atlantic that featured an article by Tom Bethell that was skeptical of evolution. It was the first I had heard of either Bethell or “Darwin doubt.”
By now, Bethell’s doubt has shaded into disbelief, which he discusses in “Darwinian Departures from Reality” (March), as well as in his recently published book, Darwin’s House of Cards.
When I heard of Bethell’s new book, I decided at least to peruse it, as I am familiar with evolution and its attendant issues. When I began to read it, I was charmed by its inviting voice, and I admired how smoothly Bethell eases the reader into complicated matters like genetics and the oxymoronic “artificial intelligence.” In fact, so enjoyable is Bethell’s style, and so representative the notables he discusses and revealing their selected remarks, that I’ve found myself returning to the book for second and third reads.
Bethell’s book is organized according to the issues or arguments Darwinists rely on for support — “Common Descent,” “Natural Selection,” and so on. Though the chapters are relatively short, the total ground they cover is large, if not vast, at least in their implications for our civilization.
You can go online to sample these and other features of Darwin’s House of Cards. Suffice it to say, however, that Bethell is ever the dedicated journalist, giving all sides their due, in their own words, from their work or from interviews he has traveled far and wide to conduct.
You can borrow Bethell’s book from the library or from a friend, but I like owning it for the reasons mentioned above.
Ed. Note: Mr. Scambray isn’t alone in his assessment of NOR contributing editor Tom Bethell. Bestselling author Tom Wolfe has called Bethell “one of our most brilliants essayists,” and Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard has called him “fearless.” To find out why, check out the new mini-documentary about Bethell and his latest book, “Iconoclast: One Journalist’s Odyssey through the Darwin Debates,” viewable on YouTube. Or better yet, read Bethell’s book for yourself. Darwin’s House of Cards, published by the Discovery Institute, is available from Amazon and other booksellers.
Suwannee Correctional Institution
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Where Are Those "Traditional Bishops"?
F. Douglas Kneibert (letter, Apribplaments the push to allow divorced and “remarried” Catholics to receive Holy Communion. In warning of a possible “Catholic version of Protestant congregationalism,” in which dioceses and parishes take different approaches to the matter, he writes, “In dioceses with traditional bishops, couples in irregular marriages are still going through the annulment process as the Church has always required.” I have a problem with that.
The Church has not always required Catholics to go through the annulment process as it is practiced today. The Church actually requires couples to seek their bishop’s permission to separate, the reasons for separation have to be serious, separation is considered only temporary until the problems can be worked out, and the common conjugal life is to be restored in most cases. This is from canon 1153, which is often totally ignored.
Furthermore, the annulment process today is basically Catholic divorce, no matter how much some people argue that it isn’t, because pastoral practice is not consistent with Church doctrine. Most declarations of marriage nullity are granted because of personal relationship issues that are so broad that any couple that becomes “unhappy” qualifies for one.
Over 20 years ago, Marian E. Crowe explained how this works in her excellent article “The Annulment Game: Let’s Pretend” (Commonweal, Sept. 13, 1996). “If the only people who are validly, sacramentally married are those whose choice was perfectly free, who completely understood what marriage is and what it entails,” she wrote, “then very few — if any — were sacramentally married at the time they exchanged nuptial vows.”
There aren’t any dioceses in the U.S. with “traditional bishops.” If there were, petitions for nullity would drop to nearly zero. The only reason the Church allows permanent separation is unprovoked adultery, and even then, the innocent party “can laudably readmit the other spouse to the conjugal life” (can. 1155). Who has even heard of such family-saving teachings over the past fifty years? Yet they are what the Church has “always required.”
Reynaldo S. Yana
Zephyrhills Correctional Institution
North Mariana Islands
Our Lord, the Liberal
I am glad to know that the NOR will not break unity with the Pope and is willing to submit to him in matters of faith and morals (ed. commentary to letter, Aprib~ But your relentless attacks on Francis’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, even after several bishops and cardinals clarified his statements, have given impetus to prospective rebels to question the authority of the Pope.
For instance, the Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas (letter, Apribpsays that the Church has the power of infallibility and somehow she has delegated it to the pope. He forgets that Vatican I (in Pastor Aeternus) was the first to pronounce that the pope is infallible. It was only at Vatican II (in Lumen Gentium) that the Church too was declared to be infallible. This is so because the Lord gave the pope, through St. Peter, the power to bind and loose. And later, the Lord separately gave all the Apostles, including St. Peter, as a whole and constituting the Church, the same power to bind and loose. What the pope has, but the Church does not, is the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt. 16:18-19).
Also, F. Douglas Kneibert (letter, Apribpaccuses Pope Francis of trying to act like he’s the Lord’s boss. On the contrary, Francis takes his orders from the Lord, a task that has gotten him in trouble with the purists in the Church. The Lord, in one of His messages to St. Faustina Kowalska, said, “Before I come as the just Judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy.” The Lord is coming through his emissary, Pope Francis. Pope Francis’s main mission is to offer mercy not to the righteous but to sinners.
In dispensing God’s mercy, God’s law and precepts held dear by the purists in the Church are set aside. Mercy trumps the law and precepts. And it is a liberal idea, which our Lord Jesus Christ Himself espoused when He said, “I have come not for the righteous but sinners” (Mt. 9:13). And so He gave His life on the Cross so that all sins may be forgiven. Yes, all sins were forgiven without considering their gravity and nature.
Is Pope Francis a liberal? In dispensing mercy, he is indeed a liberal. And so is our Lord Jesus Christ.
Taylor Correctional Institution
Jersey City, New Jersey
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
Whether Pope Francis is a “liberal” we’ll leave to brighter minds to decide. But it is never helpful to allude to our Lord in terms typically reserved for political partisans — e.g., liberal, conservative, moderate. That’s anthropomorphizing at its worst. God is greater than our human minds can fathom.
Our Lord’s mercy and His justice are perfect — one does not and cannot preclude the other, and neither can be separated from God’s law and precepts. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites,” our Lord said. “You…have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity” (Mt. 23:23). Clearly, mercy and judgment are both part of the law.
St. James did write that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:13b), and this verse has been the source of much misdirected thinking, like its companion, “judge not lest you be judged” (Mt. 7:1-2). Both depend on context; in the case of James, the preceding verses (2:12, 2:13a) are key: “So speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy.” James 2:13b isn’t a description of the order of primacy of God’s characteristics (viz., His mercy triumphs over His justice) but a reminder that our conduct in this life sets the terms for our judgment in the next. It is an exhortation for how we are to treat others — i.e., with mercy, forgiving trespasses against us. For those like Mr. Yana, Walter Cardinal Kasper, and, it would seem, Pope Francis, who would argue that mercy is God’s primary attribute, we recommend Fr. Christopher Roberts’s article “Cardinal Kasper’s Merciful Incoherencies” (June 2016) as an effective counterpoint.
Mr. Yana claims that “all sins were forgiven without considering their gravity and nature.” This is a recipe for universal salvation and is not Catholic teaching. Moreover, it contravenes Christ’s own words about His supreme, definitive sacrifice. Jesus told His disciples that His blood, the blood of the New Covenant, would be “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). He was reiterating at the Last Supper what He had said earlier: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). In both instances, He emphasizes that His sacrifice is for many — not necessarily for all.
God does, however, desire that all men be saved, and so redemption through Christ is available to all. The Catechism instructs: “Christ…who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all” (no. 616; italics in originab~ But men’s own desires often prevent their salvation in Christ. Some of us prefer not to place our faith in Jesus Christ, not to give up all that we have, not to take up our crosses and follow Him. As the Catechism further instructs: “Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation” (no. 161). We can postulate, therefore, that as many as there are who don’t believe, or who believe but refuse to follow Christ, is as many as there are who are not saved by Christ’s redemptive act. It is possible, conditionally possible, that all will be saved — nothing is impossible for God — but it would be presumptuous for any of us to declare that is definitively so.
White Plains, New York
Groping Amid the Encircling Gloom
Fr. John A. Perricone’s guest column “Is Love Really All You Need?” (Apribpcuts through the “mindless group think” by showing that true love cannot be separated from Truth — and that for Catholics, the fundamental fact is that Christ “the Bridegroom, is Love incarnate.” Since his days at St. Agnes in Manhattan over 30 years ago, in season and out, Fr. Perricone has been articulating a Thomism for everyman. He is a learned theologian who somehow manages to engage and edify the blue-collar working man, the academic, the mother of children, the college kid, the pensioner, the artist, and the stockbroker. I know this because I have attended Fr. Perricone’s underground classes around the New York City and Jersey City areas and have seen these diverse groups.
Yes, it is important that John Finnis has gotten Aquinas a hearing at Oxford (and let’s pray that his student, Neil Gorsuch, our newest associate justice of the Supreme Court, does not let us down). But Fr. Perricone’s accomplishment is arguably greater because, heedless of fashion in the Church and in the greater world, he cleaves to the truth and offers the reality of “that exalted Light” to all of us. For we are not waiting for three days of darkness but are already groping amid the encircling gloom. Fr. Perricone’s ministry is an example of the steady hand in crisis, of the lifeline that the faithful must be thrown by those priests who do not flee because of the wolves.
Richard M. Dell'Orfano
San Marcos, California
I ran into the mother of a grammar-school friend outside Mass several years ago. She was delighted to tell me how her divorced daughter, my former classmate, had just married a great guy, a doctor. When I asked her whether it bothered her that her daughter had “remarried” outside the Church, her face dropped and her eyes took on a pleading look. “I love her; I just want her to be happy,” she said. “And her first husband was a bum, anyway.”
I was reminded of this story when I read Fr. John A. Perricone’s excellent column. In it, he takes on the seemingly impossible: He argues against “love” as the “answer to everything.” This is a tough and tricky assignment for two reasons: (1) Love actually is the answer to everything, and (2) only the correct understanding of love is the answer to everything.
Fr. Perricone makes the case that love, untethered from virtue and God, has been cheapened and thrown around so much “that it can mean anything, and thus means nothing.” My classmate’s mother, like many of the countless Mass-going parents of her generation, claims love as the reason she celebrates her child’s second marriage, as if her “love” for her child is of the highest order. In reality, she doesn’t want her daughter not to speak to her; she doesn’t want to break up the family; she doesn’t want to be alone and lonely. Worse, some parents don’t see anything wrong with their children’s second marriages. They say, “Times have changed,” or “I’m not that old-fashioned,” or maybe “I wish I’d gotten rid of the bum myself.” Whatever the case, their love appears earthbound, not under the guise of Eternity.
As Fr. Perricone writes, “When love is carefully encased in truth, it radiates peace, men scale the heights of perfection, and societies prosper.” I am happy to say that I have witnessed heroic parents throughout my lifetime who have stood up for the truth of marriage (no matter what the current Pope says), been buffeted and scolded by friend and foe for being “harsh” and “unloving” for doing so, and suffered great loneliness over the loss of their errant children. I have seen them go to their graves. Yet I have also seen their peace in the love of God and Truth, their humility and saintliness, their tender and constant love for their children, and their unending prayers for their children’s eternal happiness.
Cynthia K. Distel
The Islamic Concept of Sin
Pursuant to Timothy D. Lusch’s article “The Interfaith Delusion” (Aprib* It is interesting to compare the Catholic and Islamic concepts of sin. Although similar in many ways, Muslims do not believe in Original Sin; the concept simply does not exist in their theology. Rather, they believe that each person is born in a state of spiritual purity, and each person is solely responsible for his own transgressions.
Furthermore, confession of one’s sins is not an Islamic teaching or practice. Similar to Protestants, Muslims believe they can be forgiven of their sins through tawbah, a form of interior repentance and reconciliation, by returning to Allah. Muslims are encouraged to keep their sins hidden, whereas Catholics, from ancient times, have been encouraged to make their sins public, via the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In my opinion, the Muslim practice of keeping their sins secret induces “honor killings” — Muslim husbands and fathers killing their wives or daughters for some perceived transgression — to keep any shame from reaching the public.
Bishop Robert Barron is worried about “The Rise of the ‘All-Conquering Female'” (guest column, March) in movies and television shows. This grandmother is worried that he watches that trash!
Live Oak, Florida
THE EDITOR COMMENTS:
Mrs. Distel raises an age-old question for Catholics: How much can — or should — we participate in the surrounding culture? She objects to Bishop Barron’s viewing habits; for example, in his column he states that he is “a big fan of The Simpsons,” an animated TV show known for its crass view of American family life. Bishop Barron also mentions other shows, such as Family Guy, Game of Thrones, Married with Children, and Stranger Things, though it is unclear whether he actually watches them, much less approves of them. He seems at least familiar with movies like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Fight Club, and The Intern. But merely mentioning movies and TV shows or having familiarity with their content and themes does not mean that one is “a big fan” of each or any of them. Surely, we’ve all seen shows and movies that have disappointed or angered us, and have read books or articles with which we’ve disagreed — strongly, in some cases. That doesn’t mean we need to erase them from our memory banks or that they aren’t useful for making comparisons and drawing conclusions.
In fact, it is a journalist’s responsibility — a heavy burden, at times — to keep abreast of contemporary ideas and trends, even and especially troubling, disturbing, and disgusting ones. How do you think our editors come up with material for the New Oxford Notes (especially for this issue) and News You May Have Missed columns? Should Tom Bethell, mentioned in a previous letter, not have dug deeply into the errors of Darwinism simply because some of his readers might consider them “trash”? That’s a recipe for ignorance, willful ignorance — and, in the world of ideas, ignorance is never something to be celebrated or encouraged.
Movies and TV, of course, generally fall into the “entertainment” category, rather than that of “ideas,” and the argument could thus be made that Catholics have a duty to avoid prurient or harmful media products. Granted. But while Mrs. Distel clearly considers, say, The Simpsons to be “trash” — and we don’t have anything positive to say about the show either — Bishop Barron is able to draw from it some interesting insights regarding how our culture views fatherhood. Surely there’s value in that — value he would not be able to impart were he to have scrupulously avoided watching the show.
Steven D. Greydanus, a Catholic movie critic who writes frequently for National Catholic Register, calls such scrupulosity a “rigorist approach” to movies and TV. “Unfortunately,” he writes, “many Christians and even some Catholics are suspicious of entertainment for its own sake, and even of art and culture. ‘There are better ways to spend one’s time,’ is a common refrain for those who take this view. Why watch a movie when one could be praying the rosary, reading scripture or the lives of the saints, volunteering at church or in a soup kitchen?” (decentfilms.com/articles/decentfilms).
Greydanus answers this objection: “God created us for play and amusement just as he created us for work, prayer, and community. In particular he created us for art and culture: to create and look at images; to fashion stories and music and dance, and to perform and enjoy them; to explore imaginative scenarios of good and evil, of conflict and resolution.”
We should be careful, Greydanus says, to apply our own standards of scrupulosity to others. “Precisely what constitutes unacceptable ‘worldliness’ or ‘compromise’ differs from one objector to another,” he writes. In other words, what might be an occasion of sin for one person might not be so for another. This is true even with regard to “questionable” material — as distinguished from objectively “objectionable” material.
If one Catholic film critic’s point of view doesn’t suffice, we can turn to Inter Mirifica for a more magisterial explication. Vatican II’s “Decree on the Means of Social Communication” states that movies and television, in addition to radio and the press (we can probably now add online media to the list), “can be of considerable benefit to mankind,” since they “contribute greatly to the enlargement and enrichment of men’s minds and to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of God” — that is, when they are “properly used.” How are they used properly? Those who view such media, the decree states, “should aim to understand fully what they see, hear and read.” They should “keep themselves informed in good time about assessments arrived at by the authorities with competence in this sphere and to conform to them as a right conscience would dictate. They should take appropriate steps to discuss them with…experts in such matters and should learn to reach correct judgments.”
This is precisely why we chose to publish Bishop Barron’s column. He is a foremost Catholic “expert” on film and television media — not only is he an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, he is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a multimedia apostolate, and host of the award-winning PBS miniseries Catholicism. He knows whereof he speaks. It is his duty to “keep informed” about developments in this aspect of modern life — an aspect, save for precious few exceptions, on which Catholics have been unable to wield much influence or make much of a positive impact (a hope expressed in Inter Mirifica in typically optimistic Vatican II language).
Not only do we need quality Catholic media production but quality Catholic media criticism as well. There’s not much we at the NOR can do about the former, but we’ve lent our energies to the latter over the years, offering critiques not only of individual films but of larger entertainment trends — and no, not all of the commentary has been as positive as Bishop Barron’s column; in fact, his column is an exception. To see what we’ve had to say, check out the two relevant dossiers we’ve compiled at our website: “At the Movies” (newoxfordreview.org/dossier.jsp?did=dossier-movies) and “Pop Culture & the Entertainment Industry” (newoxfordreview.org/dossier.jsp?did=dossier-pop-culture).
Robert R. Poremski
I Had No Idea!
After a long day, I settled into bed with the March issue. J.A. Gray’s article “Turning Catholics into a Stiff-Kneed People” caught my eye. I laughed so hard as I read it that I woke up my husband! I was shocked to learn about the division between Pedalists, those who lift the kneeler with their foot, and Manualists, who lift the kneeler with their hand. As I read on, I learned I was a Pedalist — I had no idea!
A few days later, while at adoration at a local monastery, I was kneeling while praying the Rosary. A young man stepped into the pew in front of me. It was glorious to see him “stand up straight, place one foot beneath the kneeler, lift, and swing the kneeler gently down,” as Gray puts it. I wanted to tap the young man on the shoulder and tell him I was a Pedalist too and that we must stick together against the Manualists. I thought it better to keep praying, thanking God for the churches that still have kneelers and asking that those that have abandoned kneelers to restore them.
Mr. Gray’s description of kneeling on the floor with the pew in front of him coming up to his throat, the people sitting with their collars in his eyeballs, when all he wanted was to fold his hands in prayer without rearranging somebody’s hair, was hilarious and so true! I confess that in a church without kneelers, I’m a “floor kneeler” too. As I continue to age with “grace and wisdom,” it has occurred to me that I might, at some point, have difficulty kneeling on a hard floor. I wonder if one of those padded garden accessories you put on the ground to kneel on while planting or pulling weeds might be helpful in those situations. A padded, portable kneeling pad designed for us Pedalist Catholics might be a lucrative business!
Gray is a gifted writer and a faithful Catholic. His article is full of insights that are still relevant. Thank you, NOR, for reprinting his timeless article.
Ed. Note: Gray’s article, reprinted in March, originally appeared in our July-August 1999 issue. It is part of a yearlong retrospective in commemoration of our 40th anniversary of publishing the NOR, in which we are reprinting one “classic” article from years gone by in each issue of 2017. Gray’s article was bracketed by “A Protestant Considers the Catholic Magisterium” by David Hartman (Jan.-Feb.; orig. Sept. 1989) and “The Soul of Man Under Secularism” by Christopher Lasch (April; orig. Jul.-Aug. 1991), which were followed by “No Enemies to the Left — Still!” by Kenneth D. Whitehead (May; orig. Jul.-Aug. 2001). This month’s selection is “The Politics of Abandonment” by L. Brent Bozell (orig. Jan.-Feb. 1988), a necessary reminder of the permanent, needful things when the pull of politics exerts its sway in our lives, as can easily happen today in our tense and polarized political environment.
From Inside the Walls
The April issue was really good. I read every article and every page. It is a superb literary work!
I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude for my scholarship subscription to the NOR. Thank you for your generosity. My prayers and those of our small prayer group are with you every day.
I want to thank you for allowing me the privilege of receiving the NOR through the Scholarship Fund. I am a cradle Catholic. I went to Catholic grade school in Baltimore and made my First Confession, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation at St. Elizabeth of Hungary. I also left my faith there.
But thanks to the NOR, not only have I embraced the Catholic faith, I have learned much I did not know. Sometimes I feel like I am studying the old Baltimore Catechism again! I hope that you will renew my scholarship subscription so I may continue to learn and absorb all that I forgot. I am scheduled to be released in October 2018, after which I’ll become a paid subscriber.
Please renew my scholarship subscription. I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your magazine. We lost our priest who was coming here and celebrating Mass for us. It took six months to get his replacement. During that time, the Catholic community shrunk down to me and one other brother. So reading the NOR was of great benefit to us. Now that we have a priest coming twice a month, our little church has grown to about 10 brothers.
I wish to thank you for printing my earlier letter (Jul.-Aug. 2016). Thanks to your kindness, I now have a Catholic pen pal who has been communicating with me. As he is the only person who corresponds with me from outside the walls. He is truly a godsend, and it was through the NOR that I got in touch with him. I thank God for the NOR daily and pray that He will bless you.
I would gladly welcome any of your readers who might wish to show the Lord’s mercy to me by visiting me in prison via U.S. mail. I am 59 years old and have 19 years left to serve.
Ed. Note: Readers interested in contributing to the NOR’s Scholarship Fund, much of which is used to fund gratis subscriptions for prisoners, can find more information in the notice in this issue. Those interested in corresponding with Mr. Clumm may contact our office for his mailing address. We can be reached via U.S. mail at 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706; via phone at 510-526-5374, ext. 0; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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