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.
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
DAN O'NEILL REPLIES:
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.
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.
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.
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
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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