The Deadly Equation
I have been a reader of the NOR for 10 years. In that decade there have been some changes of emphasis. One such shift I became aware of at first vaguely — namely, that there was an increasing amount of commentary on economic matters, and more and more reference to the Catholic Church’s preferential option for the poor. I wasn’t pleased: economics is a bore. I wanted more articles on the petulant theologians who are defying the teaching authority of the Church.
Still, that “preferential option” is also from the teaching authority.
A letter from a friend recently told me that he was not going to renew his NOR subscription. He said that no journal that played with fire (socialism) could escape being burnt (putting socialism ahead of God). My friend is a thoughtful, published, Catholic writer.
There are two things my friend doesn’t see — or didn’t till I told him. One is the deadly equation that almost everyone makes: orthodox faith equals right-wing politics. And the converse: left-wing politics equals heterodoxy. It’s easy to see why. The Protestant fundamentalists, who are, so to speak, orthodox-plus, wrap themselves in the American flag and damn those who would give away the Panama Canal. Or consider the Catholic newspapers: The Wanderer is firmly orthodox but is also (I’m told) very right-wing politically, while the National Catholic Reporter is not only vigorously left-wing in its politics but heterodox — indeed on the edge of heresy, if not over the edge.
Are these equations intrinsically true? Is there some ineluctable correspondence between, on the one hand, orthodoxy and loyalty to the Magisterium and, on the other hand, right-wing politics and big business? If there is, it totally escapes me. I therefore say that there is no such correspondence. I see no slightest reason why a labor unionist or a non-Communist socialist shouldn’t also be a faithful Catholic, or any reason why the conservative head of a corporation shouldn’t also be a secularist. But if these equations exist in the popular mind — and they do — left-wingers will tend to shun Christianity, and the Church will come to be “The Right-Wing at Worship.” That we must not allow to happen.
The second thing my friend doesn’t understand is what the NOR is trying bravely, riskily, to do. The risk is demonstrated by my friend who is ending his subscription (unless I persuaded him to think again): the risk of losing subscribers. And what is the NOR trying to do? It is trying to show that one can be uncompromisingly orthodox and loyal to the Magisterium while being leftish in politics and economics. This, after all, is precisely what Pope John Paul II (blessed be his name!) is.
I do not want the Catholic Church in America to be crippled by having that deadly equation thought to be true. That is why, whether or not I enjoy what the NOR is doing, I shall support the effort, and keep thinking about it. I ask other NOR readers to do the same.
The Religious Right
I have enjoyed reading the NOR almost as long as it has been publishing. It has been and remains one of my favorite periodicals. I am, however, troubled by its “anti-religious right” aspect.
My own conversion to Catholicism, via evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism, has left me with a settled conviction that only Roman Catholicism, in its richest and fullest form, has the capacity to overcome modernism and secularism. Nevertheless, the nuanced contempt which the NOR routinely expresses toward the “religious right” is unbecoming. While there may be an erstwhile lack of sophistication, philosophical rootage, or affective balance on the religious right, it has done much, at least on a political level, to interrupt the cor-rosive agenda of the modernists and secularists. For this we should be heartily grateful.
Reading the lives and less time-bound counsel of the saints leads one to the conclusion that there is a better way to handle the religious right. Let’s affirm and be thankful for our areas of agreement with other sincere Christians, including fundamentalists, demonstrating by our lives the fullness and unity of the faith. Let us be lights and models that draw others into our catholic vision by our sacrifice and prayer and balance. And let us be thankful for any sign of faith or virtue we find in the public witness of believers of whatever stripe.
Charlotte, North Carolina