Community Without Boundaries?
The analysis of personalism by James G. Hanink (March) resolves the conflict between individualism and community. He says in effect that it is the importance of the person that makes community relevant. Depersonalized community gives us the materialism of Marxism and capitalism.
Yet, the concept of community needs to be criticized. It carries with it boundaries, and the minute boundaries are formed, divisiveness and strife result.
Christ spoke in universal terms. There were no group boundaries in anything Christ taught. A Samaritan was as good as a Jew, a sinner as important as a nonsinner.
Highmore, South Dakota
Of Saints & Social Structures
James G. Hanink’s “A Personalist Vision” (March) seems to attempt to make practical the Holy Father’s vision for man and society as disclosed in his The Acting Person, as well as in his other writings and in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John Paul’s writings urge us to find practical applications of his vision (I’m sorry that John Hellman, in his response to Hanink, gave up; the “almost impenetrable turgidity” becomes light if you stay with it).
But something happened in Hanink’s sentence, “What personalism seeks…is that social structures….” We now have a new subject: the stamping of social structures with the personalist vision. I wonder if that sentence should instead read, “What personalism seeks is saints at work in the world.”
I think we have a special duty that must precede and accompany the transformation of structures: to grasp the marvel of the human person, both in nature and grace, by — among other things — many rereadings of The Acting Person. The respect for the gift of the person (correctly identified as crucial by Hanink) and for the gift of participation must be brought to flower in thousands of persons before it can bear fruit in sanctified social structures.
We must realize, too, that there is not going to be just one “right” way to put these things into practice; there are going to be as many practical applications as there are inspired Christians. We will continue to get in each other’s hair. Jean Bethke Elshtain’s clarification of Hanink is correct: the personalist vision is not a utopian vision. It is the exercise, in grace, of solidarity or authentic opposition in every situation in which we find ourselves. The successes will sparkle in the history of salvation, but remember: the lights will be the saints produced, not necessarily the structures.
Rochester, New York
Uneasy With Avery Dulles
I have consistently enjoyed the NOR for several years now. I appreciate the balance you strike between radical (i.e., papabppolitical thought and orthodox theology.
Among your regular writers I usually agree with Christopher Derrick, and I enjoy his witty and penetrating style. And while essentially agreeing with him in his “Humanity’s Ancient & Passionate Love Affair with War” (Jan.-Feb.), I would add that there seems to be an irony to warfare — i.e., in its ability to generate some high human values.
Derrick hints at this, but his main theme is the hypocrisy and destructiveness of war. I would acknowledge the negatives of war, but the dangers of mortal combat can also stimulate the most intense forms of courage, loyalty, endurance, sense of purpose, and fraternal love.
I agree that there seems to be a popular — if unstated — and obscene passion for war in nationalistic societies, and that the two greatest excitements on earth may well be adultery and combat. I don’t especially like this state of affairs either. But the passion and destruction and overheated glory of Mars can also be seen as aberrations from the deeper love and courage which can at times be found in — or perhaps be stimulated by — whatever nightmare the raging gods happen to be fomenting.
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