Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: May 1990

May 1990


John C. Cort’s March column on the Holy Land re­minds me of an experience I had when I was a soldier back in 1942. Isolated in northern New Mexico and awaiting transport to Africa — lonely, scared, young — I was ap­proached by a prostitute. I was of two minds: One, the son of a moral Jewish family was disgusted and startled; the other, a young man with phys­ical needs was responsive. Finally, after some 20 minutes of indecision, I went with the young lady. To use a street phrase, “I got my rocks off.”

Cort makes some attempts to be intellectually honest. That of course is the decent and moral John C. Cort who has won the respect of NOR readers. Alas, he gives up and becomes an advocate of the Arab cause. The “facts” are neatly but dishonestly arrang­ed in a nice ideological pack­age. Other, conflicting facts are conveniently ignored or quick­ly passed over. Cort reminds me of Catho­lic cause types of the past half century or so. Attempts to be intellectually honest are soon betrayed by the need to be­lieve in a cause. So, Cort got his ideological rocks off. But at what price? And in public! Shame!

Prof. Mort Perry

Dept. of Political Science, Regis College

Denver, Colorado

Faulty Account

John Cort makes many valid points about the plight of Palestinians in his March col­umn, but his account of the birth of the modern state of Israel leaves much to be de­sired.

Cort reports that under the proposed partition of Pal­estine, Israelis were “given a state with 56 percent of the land in which they still com­prised a minority…. The Palestinians resisted and the Jews won the land by force of arms in the War of 1948.” He goes on to characterize this as an Israeli move to “steal” land from Arabs.

Cort fails to mention that by March 1948, two months before Israel’s declaration of independence, some 1,200 Jews had been killed by Arab attacks. Additionally, what Cort describes as Palestinian resistance was actually attacks on Jews by local Palestinians as well as troops from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jor­dan. Indeed, Egyptian air raids began on the night of May 14, only hours after Israel’s decla­ration of independence.

Philip Bulman

Chaplain, U.S. Naval Air Facility

Winter Park, Florida

Worker-Theologians, Please!

A special word of thanks to carpenter Will Hoyt for the wonderful article on Teilhard de Chardin (Jan.-Feb.). Sympathetic but devastating, it said it all. What we need on our faculties of theology and phi­losophy are more carpenters.

Rev. James P. O'Kielty

Atsugi, Japan

Getting Beyond Left & Right In Los Angeles

The second gathering of the New Oxford Review Forum of Los Angeles was held at the Loyola Law School on March 3. The theme was “Beyond Left & Right: Catho­lics & Politics in the 1990s.”

The seminar was based on Christopher Lasch’s article “The Obsolescence of Left & Right” (NOR, April 1989). The panelists were Fran Maier, Ed­itor of the National Catholic Reg­ister, and Ched Myers, author of Binding the Strong Man, a “political reading” of the Gos­pel of St. Mark. Fran identified himself as having supported Reagan. Ched, who works for the American Friends Service Committee, advocates a form of liberation theology for North America. Both speakers, perhaps significantly, agreed with Lasch that the Left/Right di­chotomy is increasingly mean­ingless, and the discussion moved rapidly beyond that contention.

Fran said that his political experiences ultimately led him to see most political motives as “shallow and self-centered” and, following Arthur Koestler and others, to question all po­litical ideology. “Politics does­n’t do it,” he concluded. He considers both American polit­ical parties to be “liberal” in the traditional sense, both once triumphant “children of the Enlightenment,” but now bankrupt. Fran finds hope not in politics but in faith, “rela­tionships” and “an openness to life.”

Ched, who has worked with indigenous people in the Pacific and the Americas, ad­vocates a “multi-polar,” “multi­cultural” view of the world which he contrasts with the power-oriented, technological societies of the West, whose people have been spiritually dispossessed by their own conquests. He concluded by asserting that religion cannot be purged of politics, nor should it be. He conceded that Christianity tends to resist all worldly authority, especially to the degree that the latter is imperial and self-justifying.

The seminar participants, once again, contributed a lively cross-section of opinions. Ranging in age from early 20s to 60s, they included educa­tors, religious, social workers, writers, artists, a television producer, peace activists, and a mathematician.

The Forum does not have consensus as an objective, but, with notable exceptions, there seemed to be considerable agreement that the old political stances have failed to over­come alienation. A new politi­cal language is needed. It was argued that political agnosti­cism and apathy are them­selves symptoms of a techno­logical society that is now “globalizing the market,” and, by extension, “objectivizing” both nature and human beings into malleable “things.” Yet the contemporary demand for new political answers seems increasingly revealed to be a spiritual search.

The third meeting of the NOR Forum of L.A. will be held on Saturday, June 2, and the topic will be the mass media. Fr. Elwood Kieser, who produced the movie Romero, will speak on the making of Romero. John Furia, a writer/ producer and former President of the Writers’ Guild (the union for all television and film writers) will respond. Lo­cal discussion groups for various sections of L.A. are also being formed.

Ron Austin

Studio City, California

Slander? No

Stuart Gudowitz’s review of my anthology, A Revolution of the Heart: Essays on the Catho­lic Worker (Dec.), deserves some correction.

In his attempt to critique the pacifism and anarchism of the Catholic Worker move­ment, Gudowitz writes: “Curi­ously, in their essay, ‘Houses of Hospitality: A Pilgrimage in­to Nonviolence,’ Angie O’Gorman and Patrick Coy state that, even at the New York City Catholic Worker dur­ing [Dorothy] Day’s lifetime, police were occasionally called in to deal with violent guests.”

Gudowitz would evidently have the Worker throw out its commitment to pacifism and anarchism simply because individual Workers have often met with failure in their appli­cation of these principles in the often violent atmosphere of hospitality houses. Gudo­witz apparently requires paci­fism and anarchism to be mistake-proof.

The nonviolence of paci­fism and the individual re­sponsibility of anarchism do sometimes fail. Few know this truth better than those en­gaged in experimenting with these principles in hospitality houses. As Angie O’Gorman and I reported in some detail, when failures occur, Workers do on occasion turn to physical force, coercion, and the police to restore order, if not to ob­tain resolution leading to rec­onciliation. Since violence and state power also frequently fail, logic suggests that Gudo­witz would demand that they be abandoned as well. Is he ready to do so?

More serious is Gudo­witz’s assertion that “not even their own experience seems to have caused the Workers to re­think their pacifism or anar­chism.” Even a cursory glance at our chapter shows it to be an attempt to do precisely that.

Not only do Angie and I do so, but we include example after example of past and present Catholic Workers re­flecting, in interviews with us or in the pages of their respec­tive house newspapers, on the successes and failures of the Worker experiment with non­violence and individual re­sponsibility. Sifting through a long and rich experiment, we probe for patterns as to when nonviolence works and when it has failed, and what dynam­ics contribute to bringing a particular success or failure in­to being.

Unlike Gudowitz, the Catholic Worker movement is not ready to abandon what it perceives to be the gospel call to nonviolence and individual responsibility simply because it may sometimes fail. But for the reviewer to maintain that the movement has been un­willing to reflect on its daily application of the theory is to demonstrate an ignorance of not only the movement, but of our chapter as well.

Larry Chase

Upper Darby, Pennsylvania

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