If You Can't Stand the Heat...
As for the letters by Anne W. Baker and E. Thomas Dowd (July-Aug. 1993) elaborating on Anne Pilsbury’s charge (letter, May 1993) that the NOR is anti-intellectual: Apparently, anyone who questions the rhetoric of certain self-proclaimed intellectuals is bound to be accused of being anti-intellectual.
Those who pose as Catholics but do not accept Church teaching are not merely dissident Catholics; they are Protestants, as defined in any dictionary. Christ did not promise that to follow Him and His Church would be easy. It is hypocrisy personified when “dissident Catholics” demand that their special agendas be incorporated into Church doctrine. As President Truman said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” At least Dowd was honest enough to leave the Catholic Church. I respect his decision.
John J. Burke
St. Joseph Catholic Church
Brooklyn, New York
From the letters section in the July-August 1993 issue, you would think that Anne Pilsbury (letter, May 1993) is but the latest victim of NOR cruelty. If I may respond:
The Rev. Anne Baker didn’t like your “bashing” response to Pilsbury. Having reread that response a number of times, I can’t for the life of me see the problem. You ask a most legitimate question — if Pilsbury was indeed convinced the Catholic Church is filled with medieval errors, why did she join her in the first place? (If Pilsbury thought she was embracing the fullness of Catholic truth, then something was sadly lacking in the process by which she was received into the Church.)
At least E. Thomas Dowd had the intellectual integrity to leave the Church when he realized that his own view of religion as “constantly evolving guidelines” cannot be reconciled to the Church’s claim to preserve and proclaim divine truth. Of course, Catholicism involves more than doctrines — but without them and their truthfulness, the whole edifice crumbles. Unfortunately, the world today seems just as skeptical as to the possibility of knowing objective truth as was Pontius Pilate (Jn. 18:38).
Fr. Jerry Kopacek
False Sense of Humility
I can understand the strongly negative reaction of certain Protestants to Sheldon Vanauken’s April 1993 article on the Catholic Church, but I cannot understand the equally hostile reaction of some Catholics (letters, June and July-Aug. 1993). In professing the Catholic faith, a Catholic gives his assent to the doctrines of the Church — i.e., agrees that what the Church teaches is the Truth. My question is: Why would anyone want to hide the truth from his neighbor? If one believes the Catholic faith to be the Truth, he should not hesitate to make it known to others.
Perhaps the problem lies in a false sense of humility. It is true that in exalting the Church we may be tempted to the sin of exalting ourselves. Therefore, we must continually humble ourselves. But we must never try to humble Holy Church; to do so is to confuse the glorious Body with her sinful members. If we attempt to humble Holy Church, we attempt to humble her divine Founder, Jesus Christ. Needless to say, this is an offense against God. Furthermore, to conceal the Truth from our neighbors is to show a serious lack of charity toward them. Catholics are obligated to proclaim the Truth; Vanauken was only fulfilling his obligation.
Turn Someone Else's Cheek
The Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell’s meditation on his cheek-turning in the melee among children with disabilities, “On Getting Punched in the Face” (July-Aug. 1993), was more than moving; it was profound. I wish he would specifically address the dilemma which often paralyzes those of us who do accept and try to practice this way of Jesus:
One on one, some of us are ready to be pummeled, abused physically and verbally, and even to “fail.” However, very vulnerable people may also be pummeled and hurt if we refuse to restrain and “imprison” the violent ones. There may be no other staff around to rescue not just ourselves but those children or handicapped being attacked.
This is not a “yes, but” letter; it is a “yes, more” letter! I am begging Webb-Mitchell, out of his experience and inspiration, to write about the Christian response to the weak who are also being pummeled.
St. Cloud, Minnesota
In his July-August 1993 article, the Rev. Webb-Mitchell had no wisdom to offer “On Getting Punched in the Face” concerning either violence or the biblical view of it; but he did illustrate a basic temptation we face: ego-centered emotionalism.
The attack was not directed toward him. Somehow I don’t think Jesus wants us to turn the other cheek while disabled youths under our official protection are being hurt.
He exhaustively describes his own — very minor — injuries, but doesn’t report the youths’ injuries.
He seems to use a warm, ego-gratifying discussion with the instigator as evidence of the virtue of his approach — without wondering if she stopped attacking others.
In the public sphere, self-indulgent emotionalism helps explain our enthusiasm for federal poverty programs that seem to hurt the poor terribly, and our passion for endless “negotiation” in the face of genocide. Truly putting God and others first is a constant battle for us all. We are not called to feel holy; we’re called to be holy.
Silver Spring, Maryland
The Fundamental Challenge
Thomas Weinandy, in his article “Why Catholics Should Witness Verbally to the Gospel” (July-Aug. 1993), briefly touches on the consternation in certain Catholic quarters over the threat of “fundamentalist sects.” The increasing popularity of the fundamentalists poses some risk to Catholicism — not so much because religion is a zero-sum game, where someone’s gain is another’s loss, but because several sects directly attack, and question the validity of, the Church herself.
Most Catholics prefer to rise above the fray, considering the attacks insufficiently meritorious to warrant reply. Actually, however, we Catholics are often ill-prepared to meet the challenge. Catholics are often less able to defend their beliefs than are fundamentalists.
The Church has a deep and rich tradition on her side, but tradition, once divorced from its origin, becomes meaningless ritual and repetition. To meet the challenge, the Church must do a better job of explaining her history and tradition. The failure to do so only insures that fundamentalists will continue to be perceived as somewhat of a threat. But that need not be.
A. Alexander Lucio
The Sins of Israel
In June 1992 I was making arrangements for an August trip to Israel and the Occupied Territories. Since my trip, I have become more skeptical of some of the prevailing ideas about Israel. So, in June 1993, as I sat in my family room, having finished reading the last page of my latest copy of NOR, my critical faculties stirred.
I could appreciate the perspective from which Achad HaSh’erit criticized Kenneth Cragg’s The Arab Christian: A History in the Middle East. But I do have some difficulty with HaSh’erit’s argument and do not believe that his own biases offer a clarified vision of the realities.
I will confine myself to his second criticism. He maintains that Cragg’s discussion of Zionism and the state of Israel is flawed. To bolster his claim, he quotes Cragg’s observation that the “partition mandated by the U.N. in 1947 gave 52 percent of mandatory Palestine to Jews.” HaSh’erit grants that this is true but his concern is to note that “earlier Britain had lopped off from mandatory Palestine what is now essentially the kingdom of Jordan.”
From that fact HaSh’erit concludes, “The author seems to want to create the impression that the ‘Zionists’ have more than enough land.” Of course, that proves that Cragg’s “stacking of the deck is unworthy of a man who, in this book, aims at evenhandedness and fairness.”
But by his own standard, HaSh’erit will have to admit that he has omitted crucial information about the November 29, 1947, U.N. partition resolution that seriously weakens his case and bolsters Cragg’s point. The fact is the U.N.’s General Assembly passed the resolution which gave 52 percent of the land west of the Jordan River — though at least 90 percent of that land was owned by Palestinians — to the Jews, who only represented 30 percent of the population.
The fact that Britain had, in December 1922, declared its recognition of “the existence of an independent constitutional Government in Transjordan” and in 1928 had specifically defined Palestine as the area west of the Jordan River, does not alter the Palestinian perception that the U.N. resolution was not just. The newly arrived Zionists were given preference over the “native” inhabitants of the land.
Moreover, that General Assembly Resolution 181 was not binding. It was a recommendation and it is understandable why the Palestinians did not accept it. Especially since it was passed by a vote of 33 to 13 with 10 abstentions, with seven nations succumbing to U.S. pressure to vote for it. It was big-deal politics and not justice that decided the issue: The Palestinians were asked to pay the price for Hitler’s anti-Semitism.
Moreover, in HaSh’erit’s account of the Palestinian experience of colonialism, there is a more serious omission. There is no mention of the “ethnic cleansing” that accompanied the 1948 war. He passes over in silence the implications of the fact that after the 1948 war about 700,000 Palestinians had been driven out of their homes and lands and were not allowed to return in spite of numerous U.N. resolutions. Moreover, during the war the Israelis extended their borders to include half of the land originally partitioned for the Palestinians.
East Islip, New York
I was interested to read the reactions of Kevin Morgan and Bob Wilson (July-Aug. 1993) to my article “Distributing America” (May 1993). Both faulted my distributist concept of the economy, one for supposedly creating poverty, the other for hindering technology. Since these are attacks often made against Catholic social teaching, I think a reply is in order.
In the first place, regarding poverty, I think most of us have been brainwashed by our culture. If we want to win a game of baseball the team members will do better co-operating with each other than if each is in it basically for himself. We understand this in every area of life except economics, where we expect strife somehow to produce prosperity. It is true that 19th-century capitalism produced abundant goods, but only for some, and it produced grinding poverty for others. A nation is wealthy only if all its citizens are well fed and clothed. In regard to Morgan’s statement that “economies of scale and division of labor allow certain goods to be produced more efficiently and thus be sold at lower prices,” sometimes this is true. But not always. Even from the standpoint of pure efficiency (lowest cost, fastest time), making big factories that harm the environment and then hawking our wares all over the globe is not always the most intelligent thing to do. And then the nagging question of what’s this all for anyway keeps coming up. Even if we have an abundance of things, has all this competition and bigness really helped make life more human? I don’t see lots of happiness here in the U.S., even among those with the highest standard of living. “Any country implementing Storck’s ideas would have to curtail trade with other countries…perhaps causing global depression, famine, and starvation.” This is a curious charge. We have plenty of land in this country for raising food, plenty of material for building houses, plenty of stuff for making clothes. Though international trade is not wrong, it is plainly not always necessary, absolutely speaking. The problem is with our organization of the economy. When the stock market collapsed in 1929, no real wealth left the country. Yet a depression resulted. Why was this? We have created an economic system that depends not on production for consumption, but on all kinds of intricate mechanisms, from the stock market to the balance of international trade. The only economic statistic we really need to worry about is, are we producing enough of what we need for a decent human life? If this is true, then clearly we need to do some new and fundamental thinking about economics here. As to Wilson’s charge that the medieval guilds “stifled new technology, initiative, and progress,” I will not defend everything the guilds did. Like any other human group, the guilds were not perfect. Some of the industrial innovations they opposed doubtless were for the good; some doubtless not. But as Belloc pointed out long ago, the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism were two separate events, and the former would have been possible without the latter. Those who like to see ever newer gadgets should not oppose distributism on that ground. The only thing a Christian and human society should insist on is that technology truly serve human life, not be justified merely on the grounds of making one small process quicker or cheaper.
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