No 'Culture Shock'
In the September NOR, letters from the Rev. Paul van K. Thomson and Kevin Buckley address themselves to my long letter in June (“What Do the Dissenters Really Want?”).
The kindly letter from Fr. Thomson, like me a convert from Anglicanism, gently disagrees with my suggestion that converts benefit from having first seen the Catholic Church “from afar.” He disagrees, at least partly, because their perception means that they will experience a “great culture shock” when they do come in. Judging by my own experience and that of a few friends, there was no culture shock. We were well aware of dissent before we converted and of some leaks in the bark of Peter: as an earlier convert (Peter Kreeft) said to me: “Come along and help bail.” And, more strictly along the lines of culture shock, I said in my NOR article seven years ago — “The English Channel” — that I half expected collections for the IRA and the Mafia. Although the “Currants” (“Curs” for short) hadn’t then appeared, Hans Küng was doing his thing.
I do agree with Thomson about the charism of a sense of humor, especially when we consider how God sees us.
Buckley’s letter is less kind and, in fact, unfair. He knows quite well that I do not “equate” girl altar servers with abortion, except that both, along with priestesses, contraception, remarriage after divorce, and homosexual “justification” are part of the sexual agenda that is, in fact, being demanded by elements in the Church. But this sort of dissent for “obvious personal comfort” is the sort I said I was not talking about, as Buckley might note upon rereading. Thus, shall we say, I was not at all “focusing entirely,” as Buckley says I do, “on sexual issues.”
Then Buckley goes on to say that my preference would be that those seeking a personal comfort, including those who for their own comfort do not feed the hungry, should excommunicate themselves, leaving only a few saints. Buckley, to say the least, is disingenuous in thus twisting what I said. I said there was nothing to stop the sort of dissenter who is, in fact, protestant from leaving the Church for a Protestant sect that has no Magisterium. I did not imply that sinners ought to leave the Church — they are what the Church exists for: a hospital for sinners, including those who twist other people’s words. Buckley says that “the Church is Catholic because it is confident enough of its faith to include many cultures….” Very true indeed; but if the Church is not to say what the Faith is and what sin is, what is left to be confident of?
Dissenters Manipulating the Media
Kevin Buckley’s response (Sept.) to Sheldon Vanauken’s letter addressing dissenters (June) fails to make sufficient distinctions. Buckley implies that Vanauken limits the dissenters to an essentially sexual agenda. While Vanauken did write that “their public agenda is well known: almost every item is sexual,” the key distinction is the public nature of their dissent. Emphasis of the sexual is appropriate in this case. Why would the secular media want to report the controversies surrounding Christology or the Eucharist? Their job is to sell newspapers, and sex sells, even more so when it comes from within the Catholic Church. Thus, these dissenters manipulate the secular media in order to further their personal crusade of misguided or intentional destruction.
Buckley also manages to blur the distinction between the two broad groups of dissenters defined by Vanauken. We all know that living our common faith can be a difficult task. Chesterton said that Christianity hasn’t been tried and found wanting, but has been found hard and never tried. All of us in some way succumb to the desire to avoid the demands of our faith, for personal comfort or other reasons. To those of us who fall into this group, the label of dissenter could be applied as we struggle to accept, understand, and reconcile ourselves to the call of Christ as expressed in the teachings of our faith.
But this is certainly not the group to which Vanauken addresses himself. The Catholic Church in her teaching authority proclaims a revealed religion, constantly striving to understand fully that revelation and express herself in ways effective to the generation being taught (which interestingly enough can lead to legitimate dissent). The dissenters of the group that arouse Vanauken’s ire, though, are trying to remake Christianity for this generation and consider it relevant only when it mirrors the ever-shifting secular assumptions of this passing age.
The Church has always battled against the attacks of heretical dissent, but prior to the current age, these attacks have been from those who left the Church to continue an assault begun from within. Now, however, the assaults from within are not accompanied by the eventual exit of the attackers. Do they view their ministry as one of service built on truth, or as simply another career option? Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote in his preface to A Short Primer for Unsettled Laymen (Ignatius, 1985): “with their supposed science, the wise and clever, often enough theologians, unsettle the simple. The latter feel in their correct instinct of faith that something is fishy, but they don’t find the correct answer. This is why Jesus speaks the frightening words about the millstone that is to be hung around the neck of the tempter of one of these little ones.” Public dissent may advance their “careers” from a secular viewpoint, but it is doing untold damage to many of those struggling to live their faith, not to mention possible damage to themselves.
For me, the NOR acts like a passageway on my journey, providing guide-rails on the Right and on the Left, but never dictating “The Way” except as it depends on love and trust and prayer, while always respecting the journeying process itself.
'No' To Joan Andrews
After reading two articles in the September issue, “Tom Wolfe’s Novel and Its Reception as a Significant Historical Event” by John Lukacs and “Joan Andrews’s Stubborn Challenge to Prolifers” by Michael Gallagher, I am left wondering how the NOR can reconcile such a divergent editorial policy.
The article critiquing Tom Wolfe calls for some sort of recognition of tried and true values, yet the article on Joan Andrews’s act of alleged civil disobedience praises the destruction of those same values.
What is civil disobedience? It is deliberate noncompliance with an unjust law. What Joan Andrews did was not an act of civil disobedience. There was no law being applied to her that she disobeyed. She, in fact, was performing an act of noncompliance with a just law, the law which protects property owners so they can engage in legal business. Now, she may think the abortion business is unjust, but she, of all people, should know better than to throw the baby out with the bath water. There is no law which restricts American citizens from having babies (with the exception of exceptional cases, of course). So, what did Andrews do?
She performed a criminal act. Regardless of one’s view of abortion, it is indefensible to try to destroy the legal system.
The violation of laws pertaining to property rights is not civil disobedience with regard to abortion laws. It is a crime, even an act of revolution.
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