Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: March 1989

March 1989

Great Horses Don't Always Finish First

In purple outrage, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., wonders (letter, Dec.) who this Paul Miller is who dares to criticize Louis Bouyer’s New­man’s Vision of Faith. Fessio cites Bouyer as “one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century,” and Newman as “the greatest theologian of the 19th century.” Fessio overlooks the fact that I was not writing an “in memoriam,” but a book review. The question there was not their cre­dentials or greatness, but the con­tent. I wasn’t examining blood­lines, but where the horse finish­ed: even a great horse turns in an occasional mediocre performance.

As to who I am, let it be known that I am Paul Miller! Real­ly, it is immaterial that I am just another “minor league” writer who’s been reading sermons for years. I am, in fact, just the sort of ordinary layman for whom Newman’s Parochial and Plain Sermons were written. I trust this is no disqualification.

Newman’s sermons were ex­actly as he titled them: “parochi­al and plain.” No more, no less. They were never meant to be theologically scintillating flights of oratory. They were good ordi­nary grub for the faithful. Noth­ing wrong with that. My objec­tion was to Bouyer’s attempt to dress up hamburger and present it as boeuf bourguignon. Bouyer’s book is not a bad book, just a “parochial and plain” book.

Paul Miller

Sunny Isle, St. Croix

U.S. Virgin Islands


Dan O’Neill’s fierce denun­ciation of Israel, with emphatic anti-Semitic overtones, left me flabbergasted (“The Fourth of July in Bethlehem: One Family’s Tragic Story,” Dec.). According to the author, his Arab hero, Jo­seph, is a saint, and the Israeli sol­diers are villains who under no circumstance should respond to Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs, and lethal rocks. Such criminal conduct is perfectly legitimate!

While regretting Arab deaths in Gaza and the West Bank, which I also do, there is no mention of the 20,000 or more Arabs killed by Asad, the Syrian dictator, when he leveled the city of Hama in 1982. Neither is there any mention of the thousands of Arabs King Hussein had killed when he expelled the PLO goons from his kingdom because they threatened his throne.

What is truly incredible, es­pecially for a Christian, is forget­ting that thousands of Jews were killed in the three wars Arab na­tions waged against Israel in the hope of destroying her — in 1948 when Israel was created by the U.N.; in 1967 when Nasser and Hussein joined hands in the hope of liquidating the Jewish state; and again in 1973 when the late Sadat sought to achieve the iden­tical objective and failed. Thou­sands of Jews died, or were maim­ed and wounded in these three abortive attempts to destroy the small Jewish state — a goal which still dominates the Arab rulers who stubbornly refuse to recog­nize and make peace with Israel.

O’Neill also ignores a few startling facts about the Arabs in Israel, namely, that they enjoy more freedom than Arabs do in any Arab land, and that they are more prosperous, better educat­ed, and healthier than their fel­low Arabs living under Arab dic­tators. Despite the disturbances, Arabs come to the Hadassah hospital for medical treatment; Arab mothers go there to have their babies delivered by Jewish and Arab physicians; Arabs be­long to the Histadrut (labor fed­eration) and enjoy the same priv­ileges the Jews do; and Arabs voted in the last election. What discrimination!

Were it not for the PLO and other agitators, peace would reign in the Holy Land, to the joy of Arab and Jew alike.

Rabbi Theodore N. Lewis

Progressive Shaare Zedek Synagogue

St. James, New York


Rabbi Lewis’s charge of anti-Semitism is a red herring fre­quently waved at those who challenge Israeli government policies. It is not the rich tradition of Ju­daism — or the worth of the Jew­ish people — which is called into question, but rather the govern­ment-sanctioned brutality of mil­itary occupation policies widely observed in the West Bank and Gaza, brutalities and policies which are vigorously protested by countless Jews, both outside and inside Israel.

Of course, Arab govern­ments have also been guilty of abusing human rights and of mili­tary adventurism. No country in the Middle East, including Israel, has a monopoly on brutality or benevolence.

As for the Arab-Israeli wars listed by Lewis (which excluded Israel’s 1956 attack on Egypt and its 1978 invasion of Leba­non), conspicuously absent is any mention of Israel’s disastrous 1982 “Peace for Galilee” inva­sion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut which killed thousands of civilians. This was a war which became Israel’s Vietnam and found Israeli forces in complicity with their Lebanese militia allies in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps.

“Prosperous Arabs” living in Israel, as Lewis calls them, share a common sentiment with the “prosperous blacks” of South Africa. Both feel they are forced to live as second-class citizens and they rather consistently state that they prefer self-determina­tion over economic status.

The above aside, Lewis fails to address the central theme of my article, which is the official Israeli policy of collective punish­ment, for which there can be no moral justification.

Pat Boone


Beverly Hills, California

Moving & Troubling

Dan O’Neill’s article about the Palestinian shepherd/student (Dec.) was very moving, and very troubling. I certainly agree that the harsh Israeli tactics are un­called for; moreover, they will be counterproductive — God’s law hasn’t changed, and “with the judgment we judge, we shall be judged.” O’Neill did a beautiful job of writing it up; I’m just sor­ry that it was there to be written at all.

Joseph Al-Hiraymi

Fordham University



I find the NOR to be a mix­ed blessing in my life: equally vexatious and uplifting, often in the same issue. The November is­sue is a good case in point. I am one of those Catholics who finds the organization’s preoccupation with things sexual to be entirely misplaced, particularly in light of more pressing matters. There­fore, when I continue to see the likes of Sheldon Vanauken con­stantly thrusting their near-hys­teria about the Charles Currans and Hans Küngs of the Church at me in the NOR, I get disturbed to the point of threatening to can­cel my subscription. However, John Cort’s skilled flaying of Michael Novak and Frank Haig S.J.’s illuminating analysis of Stephen Hawking’s thought were so very well done that I know I would miss the NOR’s particular brand of non-vicious acerbity.

So, vex away, as long as you also continue to bless us with criticisms of the Right-wing.

Rev. Prof. Francis Canavan, S.J.

Stonehill College

Bronx, New York

The Abortion Issue

It pains me to have to dis­agree with a man from Woodmere, Long Island, where John C. Cort grew up and I went to junior high school. But I must say that in his December column, “Abortion and Last Month’s Election,” Cort let his hatred of capitalism overwhelm his reason.

Granted, what government can and should do about abor­tion is a matter of practical, pru­dential political judgment. But Cort fails to see that the Demo­cratic Party has no interest in that kind of judgment on abor­tion. It is locked into a rigid stance against doing anything to limit abortion in any way.

The first step toward practi­cal, prudential judgments on abortion law is to relax or reverse Roe v. Wade. Such a decision by the Supreme Court would not forbid abortion; it would only re­turn the regulation of abortion to the states and so make possible the practical, prudential political judgments Cort seems to favor. To hasten that day, it will be necessary to deny votes to candi­dates of either party who refuse to stand against abortion or who turn out to be the kind of waffler that George Bush may be. Anything else will only entrench in American law the present situ­ation of abortion on demand.

Jerry C. Stanaway

Elmhurst, Illinois

Regarding John C. Cort’s December column, I was not the least bit impressed with his un­critical acceptance of Michael Dukakis’s statement that he op­poses abortion personally. When one looks at Dukakis’s back­ground, it would appear that he is actually personally in favor of abortion.

As a Massachusetts legislator in 1970, Dukakis introduced a bill to legalize abortion — three years before Roe v. Wade. Four times as governor he vetoed leg­islation or a state budget simply because it contained restrictions on abortion funding. In 1986 he was the keynote speaker at an abortion rights “celebration.” If Dukakis is personally opposed to abortion, why has he generally acted like a rabid, hardcore pro-abortion activist?

Moreover, Dukakis’s devo­tion to the pro-abortion cause seems to be stronger than his de­votion to liberalism in general. He chose conservative Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate, who disagreed with Dukakis on most issues but shared his support for abortion.

Prof. Philip E. Devine

North Easton, Massachusetts

More on Allan Bloom

Perhaps the best place to begin my reply to Mark C. Henrie’s letter defending Allan Bloom (Dec.) is with Socrates. I do not argue: (1) Socrates is a secret atheist; (2) Bloom sees himself as a modern Socrates; therefore, (3) Bloom is an atheist. I take Socra­tes at his word when he claims to have been inspired by the god of Delphi, though what exactly this means is something of a riddle (or perhaps a mystery). My point is that Bloom regards Socrates as an atheist, and for that reason, cut off from the moral and polit­ical, as well as the religious, con­cerns of ordinary folk.

In my article on Bloom (Oct.), I emphasize the difference between a genteel nihilist such as Bloom and the crude nihilists who support slogans such as “Hey, hey, ho, ho. Western cul­ture’s gotta go.” I ought to have noted the difference between the covert nihilism espoused by Bloom and the bluff nihilism of someone like Richard Rorty, who somehow expects to defend democracy on nihilistic premises.

As for secret writing, I do not insist on the phrase “lies dressed up in rhetoric.” It suffic­es that Bloom’s book contains two messages, one for the masses and a very different one for the inner circle. It seems a fair presumption that those who find se­cret writing in the classics of the Western tradition are prepared to indulge in it themselves. And there is no point doing so unless one has something to say that is deeply offensive to those whose support one desires.

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