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
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.
Chaplain, U.S. Naval Air Facility
Winter Park, Florida
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
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.
Studio City, California
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.
Upper Darby, Pennsylvania
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