I just got more than two hours of worthwhile reading out of the July-August issue of the NOR. Quite often the NOR requires good time to study the mature, uplifting articles it presents.
The same issue laments the passing of newspapers and magazines in print (editorial, “Glancing to the Past, Bracing for the Future”). I submit that this is not only because of the electronic age so present now. It is rare that I can find a half hour of anything worth reading in the local daily newspaper. Most magazines are no better, and popular TV shows and movies are even worse. Sensationalism, violence, immaturity, and lack of inspiration are the order of the day.
Compared to most newspapers and magazines, and much TV and film, reading the NOR is like standing on a high hill, breathing fresh, invigorating air.
Bruce C. Madara
U.S. Army (Ret.)
I much enjoyed Keith Hopkins’s article “On Shakespeare’s Supposed Catholicity” (Jul.-Aug.). It did, however, contain two relatively minor assertions that I think are problematic.
First, to describe Henry VIII’s son and successor, King Edward VI, as a “Protestant zealot” is an oversimplification. Edward came to the throne at the age of nine, and he was only 16 when he died. As a child, he was, therefore, entirely within the shadow of the Regency Council and, particularly, of his two successive Protectors, who were themselves, admittedly, radically Protestant.
Second, Hopkins writes, in reference to the reign of Elizabeth I, of the “Protestantized Anglican Church, as it is now called.” In fact, I believe that the term Anglican — though perhaps not completely unknown earlier and, of course, deriving from the medieval term ecclesia anglicana (meaning, merely, “the English Church”) — really only came into use in the second half of the 19th century with the growth of an international Communion looking to Canterbury.
The Rev. Allan R.G. Hawkins
Dixon Correctional Institute
Fort Worth, Texas
I think the case for Shakespeare’s Catholicity is far stronger than Keith Hopkins concedes. Not only does John Henry Newman assert that Shakespeare “has so little of a Protestant about him that Catholics have been able, without extravagance, to claim him as their own,” but G.K. Chesterton also states that Shakespeare’s Catholicism is something “every Catholic feels by every sort of convergent common sense to be true.” I was first persuaded of it by my non-Catholic correspondent Prof. Arthur Scouten (raised a Presbyterian) who explained to me that anti-Catholicism in academe had prevented scholars from reading the plays from this perspective.
The work of Fr. Peter Milward, S.J., is utterly convincing in this regard, especially Shakespeare the Papist (2005), in which he examines each play in chronological order. Fr. Milward sees a Catholic cast of mind in Shakespeare’s persistent yearning for former times, one that “strangely echoes” the laments of “not a few” Catholics of his age, as well as the poet’s own lament in Sonnet 67. In Hamlet a prince who studied at Wittenberg — Luther’s university — comes home to mourn his father and becomes “fundamentally opposed to the new order.” In Richard III, Twelfth Night, and As You Like It Milward sees the same longing for past and better times.
Another theme applicable to Elizabethan Catholics is unjust banishment. In As You Like It Rosalind is banished for treason and makes the Catholic plea, “your mistrust cannot make me a traitor.” She finds sanctuary in the crypto-Catholic setting of the Forest of Arden. In King Lear loyal Cordelia departs for exile, while in Pericles, the hero’s “perpetual exile” can be explained by the “incest” he discovers between King Antiochus and his daughter — an allusion to Nicholas Sander’s Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism (1585), the first Catholic history of the English Reformation, which reported that Anne Boleyn had been Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter. The same theme of unjust banishment is found in Richard II, The Tempest, and Cymbeline, in which Belarius is accused of being confederate with Rome.
Under law, recusants, especially seminary priests arriving from abroad, were vulnerable to arrest, torture, and public execution as traitors. In The Comedy of Errors an old merchant is arrested for treason on arrival; in Lear Kent and Edgar represent Catholics hunted for their lives and lurking under false names; and in Timon of Athens there is a strange reference to the “sight of priests in holy vestments bleeding.”
According to Milward, Shakespeare offers us glimpses of the “great spymasters of the Elizabethan persecution” in Claudius and Polonius, who set spies on Hamlet, and in Macbeth, who puts a spy in every nobleman’s house. Fear of spies and informers was especially intense after the Gunpowder Plot. Although it involved only 13 Catholics, Secretary of State Robert Cecil used it to tar all the Catholic nobility. Shakespeare’s cousin on his mother’s side, Robert Catesby, was implicated in this plot, probably by entrapment.
Shakespeare’s plays are full of references to Catholic devotions, such as pilgrimages, invocations of saints, and prayers for the dead. Milward shows, for instance, that in Hamlet mad Ophelia sings of the “cockle hat and staff” of a pilgrim to Compostella; Othello refers to St. Peter’s keys; Hamlet takes an oath by St. Patrick; and Horatio echoes a Gregorian antiphon when he prays over Hamlet’s corpse, “flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Moreover, Shakespeare often recalls the religious orders now banned from his country. Richard II tells his queen to enter a “cloister”; Friar Laurence advises Juliet to join “a holy sisterhood of nuns”; Theseus tells Hermia to take “the livery of a nun”; Friar Francis offers to conceal Hero in a “reclusive and religious life”; and Hamlet tells Ophelia to get herself to “a nunnery.” In England at the time, it was forbidden for any woman to enter a nunnery. In addition, Portia pleads her vow to live in “prayer and contemplation,” while Isabella intends to enter the “cloister” of St. Clare. Milward notes too how often Shakespeare refers to Franciscans: three friars lead three couples in three plays to holy matrimony.
What I find most convincing is that Shakespeare’s heroines image the Virgin Mary, and the word grace keeps recurring in their regard. In All’s Well that Ends Well Helena approaches the king with words that echo the Magnificat, and the comment of Lord Lafeu — “They say miracles are past” — links the healing Helena bestows to the miracles at our Lady’s shrines. In As You Like It Rosalind’s “grace” extends to the whole place of exile; in Othello Desdemona is not only full of “grace” but eager to intercede; in Pericles Marina, whose name evokes the Marian title Stella Maris, is greeted by her father as “Thou that begett’st him that did thee beget,” an echo of St. Bernard’s greeting of the Virgin in Dante’s Paradiso; and in Cymbeline — where Milward finds a sympathetic evocation of the pope in Posthumus, who “cannot err” and is established “upon a rock” — Imogen is yet another woman of heavenly “grace” whose reunion with Posthumus seems to represent that of England with Rome.
Milward suggests that Shakespeare was in danger as a recusant at the time he retired: In the winter of 1609-1610, the Cholmeley Players chose King Lear and Pericles for presentation in the Catholic houses of Yorkshire, setting off alarms. The Bard was cited before the Star Chamber in Westminster. Then John Speed, in his History (1611), connected Shakespeare with the Jesuit Robert Persons, an “arch-Papist.”
I strongly recommend Fr. Milward’s works to anyone who wants to explore Shakespeare’s Catholicity a little further.
Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Brewster, New York
KEITH HOPKINS REPLIES:
Anne Barbeau Gardiner states that “the case for Shakespeare’s Catholicity is far stronger” than I concede in my article. It is clear from what she goes on to say that she bases her own case on a “Catholic” reading of the plays. Interesting though this is, if a little circular, this is not what I was saying. My aim was to look at what proven grounds exist, if any, to support the assertion that Shakespeare was a Catholic.
Stratfordians — those who hold that Shakespeare is in fact the author of the plays attributed to him — maintain that the half dozen or so ascertained facts about the Bard’s life are the real deal. This is all we know and all we need to know. Sure, the fact that Shakespeare got married and signed a lease and a will tells us things. But these are not the things we really want to know. Hence the importance, as I see it, of John Shakespeare’s “Spiritual Testament.” For years the Stratfordians have been in denial, pussyfooting around and refusing to acknowledge its importance. Here is a document of serious historical value, something that would have had explosive religious significance for that time, and which connects up powerfully with our man.
Possible allusions to Catholicism exist aplenty in the plays. But we need to be careful. Pretty much all of them carry a freight of plausible deniability. This is the stick that the Stratfordians use to beat the movement for what I might call real history in connection with the dramatist and his plays. The case for Shakespeare’s Catholicity is a good one, with or without special pleading.
Objections to Conscientious Objection
Thom Nickels’s article “The Trials of Following One’s Conscience” (Jul.-Aug.) left me with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have always appreciated sincere conscientious objectors like Mr. Nickels; on the other hand, I have also always appreciated the many soldiers who were equally sincere in their decision to serve their country. The Vietnam War era was a difficult and soul-searching time. I was torn between protesting a war I was confused about and supporting my many friends and acquaintances who were combat soldiers or served in other ways.
I married a wonderful man who was drafted into the Army in 1968 and served a tour as a combat infantry soldier. Always a faithful Catholic, he did what he thought was best. The war certainly took its toll on him and many others — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. After the war he did what most did: worked for a living, at times putting in 70-80 hours a week for low pay. He worked over 40 years before asking the VA for benefits. After several rejections, he finally received compensation, which we appreciate.
For Nickels to even hint at extending veterans’ benefits to conscientious objectors is absurd. There are many veterans — from Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan — who suffer from their war experiences who still do not receive the benefits they earned.
Thank you, Mr. Nickels, for following your conscience. And thanks also to all the brave, self-sacrificing soldiers and veterans. I am proud to be married to a devout Catholic who fits in the latter category.
Thomas J. Barbarie
San Diego, California
I implore you to believe me when I say that I began reading Thom Nickels’s article with an open mind. My own thoughts about the Vietnam War have evolved since I subscribed to the idea that the U.S. was involved in a justifiable attempt to stop an unspeakable evil, communism, from overrunning a small country. Besides helping the people of South Vietnam from being crushed under the communist heel, it seemed clear to me that a successful American intervention would prevent another square on the world chessboard from falling under communist control. That success would strengthen the free world, which was clearly under attack from a godless enterprise headquartered in the Kremlin.
I applied to join the Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis and began serving in January 1963. I was one of those who were appalled at the mishandling of the Vietnam War by the Johnson-McNamara team. The war dragged on largely thanks to incompetence at the very top — but also because of the stab in the back from Jane Fonda, Abbie Hoffman, and their followers, among whom I list Thom Nickels. I admit that during the war my feelings toward those like Nickels were anything but benign. And when the war ended in America’s ignominious defeat, I continued to believe that the Nickelses of the world were largely to blame for the crimes of the re-education camps and atrocities inflicted upon the Boat People. I still hold that a country with a large Catholic population was sacrificed on an altar erected by a group of young men devoid of manhood, happily taking on the role of useful idiots. These were people who would make Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and their local drug peddlers rich while proving themselves unworthy heirs to their country’s riches.
Still I gave Nickels a chance to make his case. Why? Well, given the ugly face the U.S. has shown recently, with its unprovoked invasion of a helpless country, Iraq, that presented no threat to it; the bombing of Serbia so that an Albanian Muslim drug gang could oust Christian Serbs from their land; and other atrocities; it occurred to me that, had I been born in 1993, I would have had difficulty aligning myself with the current government.
So I gave Nickels a hearing — though I had problems with his willingness to bring disgrace on his father. I thought of my own father, and how when I was on leave and would visit home, he’d say, “You’re going to wear your uniform, aren’t you?” And then during the course of the evening he would insist that we go up to Walsh’s Bar & Grill, where the regulars would be assembled. And he would swell with pride.
Then I got to the part where Nickels suggested that conscientious objectors should get veterans’ benefits. No, no, no! You didn’t stand those midnight watches on the bridge with me; you didn’t fight the gnats at Guantanamo Bay with me; you didn’t get seasick with me when the ship was taking 45-degree rolls. Next thing you know, Nickels is going to ask to be buried at Arlington. Sheesh!
Lt. Col. Cyril W. Appel
It would appear that Thom Nickels is doing his best to salve his conscience for dodging the draft during the Vietnam War. Good luck. Behind all the sophistry and downright misinformation — was the war waged to stop the spread of communism or for economic reasons? — the inescapable fact remains that his place was taken by someone else, someone who may have given his life in the attempt to keep South Vietnam free from communism.
The loss of Vietnam was a tragedy of immense human dimensions. Upwards of a million South Vietnamese died after the North conquered the South. My district chief (I was a district senior advisor in the Delta during my second tour of duty in 1970-1971) was a true Vietnamese patriot. He died in a “re-education camp” after the war. Last year, when my wife and I were in Ben Tre Province in the Delta where I served, we stopped to visit with a Catholic priest whose uncle, who was pastor at the same church, was beheaded by communists in 1946.
The consequences of the “domino effect” were seen in Cambodia during the horrible Pol Pot regime. I have seen human bones emerging from the soil of the “killing fields” that resulted in the death of over 20 percent of that small nation at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
So, sorry, pal. You got out of serving your country, but the soldier who took your place didn’t. Go live your life and write your books, but don’t expect this old soldier to believe you were anything other than self-serving by avoiding your country’s call to arms.
La Mesa, California
In light of the Left’s continuing propaganda that the Vietnam War was lost, we need to set aside the lies and look back to the unassailable facts. The best and most compact assessment of the war is Philip Jennings’s Politically Incorrect Guide to the Vietnam War. One can also profitably turn to Thomas Dooley’s three books, Deliver Us from Evil, The Edge of Tomorrow, and The Night They Burned the Mountain, published in one volume by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. The essays of Admiral (later U.S. Senator) Jeremiah Denton are also informative and describe the subhuman behavior of the North Vietnamese communists. Lastly, the life of the highly decorated warrior-hero Col. Robert L. Howard (1939-2009) can provide insights into the superlative courage of the vast majority of our troops.
The literature is endless, and it easily debunks Nickels’s absurd and mendacious statement that what impelled us to intervene in Vietnam was not valid. We sought to rescue our ally, a tiny country, besieged by bestial Red forces. Our enemy had no respect for any civilized conduct or for the accepted rules of warfare. Any lapses by our troops and commanders pale in comparison to the atrocities and mass murders committed by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army.
I encourage NOR readers to consider the heroism, self-sacrifice, compassion, patriotism, Christian love, and virtue (in its classical meaning of orete, or manliness) of our troops and their wives and families. As for leftist propaganda posing as history, we need not bother. The truth emerges with time, and the truth about Vietnam is still to be found in its entirety.
THOM NICKELS REPLIES:
To Patricia Grohs
Your letter beautifully illustrates the two traditions held in the early Church: the pacifist tradition and the just-war tradition, both of which have been honored throughout the centuries. You seem to understand that my decision to become a CO was not taken lightly, and that it in no way cast aspersions on those men who opted to serve. I must say, however, that while I was working as an operating-room orderly at Tufts-New England, I became aware of the existence of an underground railroad where AWOL soldiers sought assistance from the large, local anti-war community as they made their way to Canada. While some soldiers probably went AWOL for less than noble reasons, most maintained that they could no longer participate in an unjust war.
Tufts-New England was an extremely liberal institution that participated in the massive 1969 moratorium against the war in the Boston Common. In a ceremony on hospital grounds, attended by leading surgeons, nurses, and hospital administrators, as well as by lower-echelon workers, anti-war statements were read and then a number of draft cards were burned in a makeshift fire pit constructed in the hospital parking lot. While I never burned my draft card, watching as leading hospital administrators applauded as this was being done, told me that mainstream attitudes about the war were about to change.
As for my plan to attempt to obtain veteran’s benefits after the completion of alternate service, this was not my idea but my father’s, who I think was trying to compensate for his rather over-the-top reaction to my registering as a CO. These were ugly times, much like the Civil War era when families became divided as one son aligned with the North and another with the South. It is important for readers not to obfuscate my reasons for becoming a CO with my failed attempt to obtain benefits.
To Thomas J. Barbarie
As for the charge that I disgraced my father, since I was a boy he taught me that the most valuable possession in life is one’s mind and the knowledge that life and study can dispense. “You can be stripped to the bone and thrown in a river without any material possessions, but as long as you have these things, you have everything,” he said. In the late 1960s one could “disgrace” the family name by growing long hair and a beard, becoming a “hippie,” or even disagreeing politely about the war. “Patriotism” in many communities was defined as not disagreeing with the status quo or questioning the prevailing orthodoxy about why we were in Vietnam. Of course, a true patriot would challenge the status quo after discovering that the legitimacy of the Vietnam War was built on lies — as would later be revealed in The Pentagon Papers, in which Daniel Ellsberg revealed the secrets that established that the government knew that the war was futile but opted to continue fighting it “to save face.”
I see it as a very good thing that there were many men like myself who refused to participate in a war conceived in secret and justified by deception with little regard for the human costs. A number of my high-school classmates died in Vietnam either because they did not have the family connections to beat the draft or were too poor to attend college and obtain a student deferment. Saying “no” to the draft was a life-and-death decision that had dire consequences (and not for cowards, certainly), in many ways a far scarier proposition than going with the flow and being inducted. Who would want to risk possible lifetime alienation from family and friends, the loss of future employment, as well as a prison sentence, for refusing induction?
As for Jane Fonda, she has apologized many times for posing in a North Vietnamese tank, which is fitting considering that such posturing crossed the line from anti-war sentiment into something truly ugly. Aligning oneself with the “other side” has nothing to do with conscientious objection. But Fonda’s big mistake in this matter does not discount the few right things she said about the war — namely, that the merciless bombing by the U.S. of high-density population areas of North Vietnam, the dropping of napalm bombs, and the destruction of schools, hospitals, factories, churches, and Catholic cathedrals was wrong. Like Barbarie, I have little respect for Abbie Hoffman, who is nothing more than a crass opportunist. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan are musicians, and the fact that they got rich from their music has no bearing on their views on Vietnam.
To Lt. Col. Cyril W. Appel
My conscience is clear when it comes to having requested and received CO status. In fact, the only “salve” needed is for those young men who were drafted into a useless and futile war and ended up being sent home in coffins. If my place in battle was taken by someone else, then hopefully that someone else believed in the war and felt good about his involvement in it.
Draft dodgers are, of course, a different breed altogether. Those are the men who, either through wealthy family influences, protracted student deferments, or false letters from physicians attesting that they had untoward diseases, were able to escape being drafted. Most COs, on the other hand, charged head-on and dealt with the system as required by law. This is an important distinction. Had I not been granted CO status, I was prepared to go to prison for two years. Running away to Canada was not an option for me.
It is wise to remember that in 1970 Prince Norodom Sihanrik of Cambodia was ousted not by Pol Pot but by a U.S.-backed right-wing military coup. Shaken to the core, the Prince then aligned himself with Pol Pot, his former enemy. That year was also when the U.S. invaded Cambodia in order to rid the country of North Vietnamese, a move that merely drove them into Cambodia’s interior, where they eventually joined forces with the Khmer Rouge.
Lt. Col. Appel does not mention the fact that from 1969-1975 the U.S. bombed North Vietnamese encampments in eastern Cambodia, resulting in the death of 150,000 Cambodian peasants. What this did was assure the complete economic destruction of Cambodia, making the ground ripe for Pol Pot to move in and take over. One could surmise from this that, if the U.S.-backed coup had not ousted Prince Sihanrik, millions of deaths could have been avoided.
There are many ways to serve one’s country that do not entail picking up a gun and fighting in a war, and alternate civilian service is certainly one of them.
To Michael Suozzi
The French withdrawal from Vietnam came about because the cost of fighting was deemed too high: 400,000 soldiers and civilians dead (on all sides). The 1954 Geneva Accord, in an attempt to bring about peace and the reunification of North and South, insisted not only that the French withdraw from North Vietnam but that free elections be held in 1956 that would allow the people of the North and South to determine how they wanted their country to be ruled.
Let the people vote, let the people decide: This sounds incredibly American and constitutional, doesn’t it? Isn’t democracy about letting the people have their say, even if what they want is distasteful to others? Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. The free elections were not held because the U.S. and South Vietnam feared that it would give birth to a united socialist Vietnam. So the Geneva Accord was kicked to the curb and the people of Vietnam never got to vote, which is scandalous, to say the least. Perhaps, had the people voted, there would have been peace rather than the saturated bombing of civilian areas, arranged political assignations, the routine killings of civilians, and the dumping of over 10 million gallons of Agent Orange to destroy crops — not to mention the tragic and unnecessary death of 59,000 American servicemen.
As for the belief that had we stayed in Vietnam and given it more muscle power, we might have won the war, I agree with journalism professor Robert Jensen who wrote, “Short of nuclear weapons, it’s not clear what additional forms of violence we could have unleashed on the people of Vietnam.”
Andrew M. Seddon
The Conscience of Conscientious Objectors
I read Thom Nickels’s article with great interest. I was in a situation similar to his during that era, though conditions were different in my case. I had to register for the Selective Service in November 1968, when I turned 18, shortly after entering college. My instinct, very deeply felt at the time, was to register as a conscientious objector. But I allowed myself to be persuaded by friends, and by my fiancée and her parents, to take the route of least resistance, so to speak, and simply register as most others did. My qualms only increased as the war continued to unfold, as the body count increased, as the panoply of horrors of that war burst nightly through television screens, and as my own thinking about pacifism came into better focus. But, as a full-time student at Seton Hall University from 1967-1971, I was exempt from the draft until after graduation.
As my concerns about the war grew and my involvement in the anti-war and civil-rights movements increased, I found that the path of least resistance was no longer tenable. I normally spent summers in Montreal, and people there approached me to hint that they could help me if I wanted to flee north. I argued endlessly in the Montreal bars with Canadians my age who abhorred U.S. political imperialism and unbridled aggression in Southeast Asia. Because I was an American, I had to answer for that policy, even though my own objections were equally strong. Like Nickels, I opted to remain in the U.S., come what may.
I returned from one of those visits to Montreal and registered for counseling at the Merton-Buber House, in the Bowery of Manhattan, and began going there once a week. Their counselors helped me think about how to argue for a change of status to conscientious objector. They challenged me and my assumptions and did their best to toughen me up for the ordeal ahead. To make a long story short, I never had to face that particular ordeal. I graduated from college in 1971 and was called in for a physical, but that’s as far as it went. The draft was winding down by then, and I never heard from the draft board again.
I applaud Nickels for the position he took against the war — it’s much harder to fight for and actually live by one’s convictions, as he did, than to simply join a march or an anti-war protest, as I did. I struggled too, but I didn’t have to face what he had to face. And while I share Nickels’s commitment to pacifism, borne out in his case by his alternative service in Boston, I also want to note that most of my associates in that day and time weren’t thinking about the writings of the early Christian pacifists as we struggled along our own collective and personal paths. No, we were reading Schumacher and Steinem, Friedan and Fulbright, not Maximilian or Martin of Tours.
Nevertheless, Nickels is to be commended for having the courage of his convictions, and for writing so eloquently and thoughtfully about them. I’m amazed, frankly, at his success in actually winning conscientious-objector status from a very skeptical draft board, who embodied official authority in a nation at war (suspect and bankrupt as that war was). I imagine that Nickels’s success was a relatively rare event, as he himself suggests, perhaps a bit too modestly. It’s hard to imagine how someone having no obvious religious grounds would succeed against the draft in those days, at that very fraught historical moment. Yet he assumed an unabashedly secular anti-war stance and, employing what appears to have been a purely secular argument before his interrogators, he prevailed. Were the Christian thinkers he now cites on his mind as he argued his case before the draft board? Nickels doesn’t say. But he achieved what I myself had hoped to achieve by signing on with the Merton-Buber Center.
The Wrong Caesar
Thom Nickels reports that St. Martin of Tours (c. A.D. 315-397) told Julius Caesar that it was not lawful for him to fight. Since Julius Caesar lived from 100-44 B.C., this is obviously not possible. Mr. Nickels surely means Caesar Julius, better known as Julian the Apostate, who reigned from A.D. 360-363. As frequently happens when dealing with lives of ancient saints, there are difficulties with chronology. Constantine II, who reigned from 337-340, has also been proposed as the emperor at the time, assuming that Martin only remained in the military a further two years, as his biographer Sulpicius Severus relates.
However, as medieval historian Régine Pernoud discussed in her book Martin of Tours, it appears that Martin may have continued in the military for his full 25-year enlistment period until somewhere around 356-360. She concurs with the opinion that he was a member of the Imperial Guard, whose duties were “ensuring public order, the protection of the imperial post, the transfer of prisoners or the safety of dignitaries.” As such, he could fulfill his military duties without having to shed blood in combat. The Council of Arles (314) had “explicitly emphasized that Christians did not have to abandon the military after their baptism.” It was only when barbarian incursions raised the specter of combat that Martin faced the emperor and proclaimed that it was not lawful for him to fight.
Foster City, California
William Newton (“Same-Sex Marriage & the Totalitarian Notion of Civil Authority,” Jul.-Aug.) works hard to twist things his way. His inexact sophistry is spread throughout his article.
Dr. Newton writes that “a right is a moral power to fulfill a duty.” Huh? Where did he get this definition of a right? He writes further that “the right to marriage is founded on the duty of the human race to perpetuate and develop itself through the begetting of children.” Of course he’s leading us to the conclusion that homosexuals do not have such a right because they cannot fulfill this duty. But if there is room in marriage for two heterosexuals who cannot fulfill this duty, then it follows that there is also room in marriage for two homosexuals. Why should, say, an old man and an old woman beyond child-bearing years be allowed to marry when they are incapable of perpetuating the human race by begetting children? Why should a sterile man or a barren woman be allowed to marry?
Another example: Newton writes that “the first question to be decided upon is whether or not homosexual sex is contrary to the natural law. Since this article is about political philosophy and not ethics, I will leave this question to one side.” Why? That would be a great question to discuss, particularly given the fact that homosexuality occurs among the four-legged in nature. Instead, after claiming that it’s the first question to be decided upon, Newton sweeps it aside to discuss secondary matters.
I submit that human beings are naturally polygamous, like deer; not monogamous, like beaver, which suffer widowhood. Polygamy is such a strong force in human society that it didn’t end with the establishment of marriage. Perhaps a question to be decided upon is whether or not marriage itself is contrary to the natural law. After all, breeding preceded marriage: human society was well along before men and women formalized their relationships with a ceremony.
Bernard M. Collins
WILLIAM NEWTON REPLIES:
Mr. Berkley asks about the origin of my definition of a right as “a moral power to fulfill a duty.” I am not sure who first formulated it like this but, if Mr. Berkley is interested, it can be found explicitly in “Law, the Rule of Human Actions,” chapter IV of Louis de Poissy’s Christian Philosophy (1898), and in Caritas in Veritate (2008), in which Pope Benedict XVI says, “rights presuppose duties, if they are not to become mere license” (no. 43). What is more important, however, is that it seems to be an accurate definition of what — at least until very recent times — we in the West have meant by a right. I assume, but here I am interpolating, that Berkley will agree that we do need a definition of a right if we are going to use such a notion in framing laws. It would be absurd to proclaim a right to homosexual marriage without knowing upfront what a right is.
Berkley issues an important objection to the definition of a right that I am championing when he raises the question of sterile heterosexual couples. The difference between a heterosexual couple and a homosexual couple is that the former is able to engage in the kind of sexual activity that in a normal situation is generative. That it is not generative in this particular case (as it is not in most occurrences of intercourse between a fertile husband and wife) does not change the fact that this type of sexual intercourse is generative (though accidentally sterile), as compared to homosexual intercourse, which is essentially sterile. The heterosexual couple is thwarted in fulfilling the duty by unfortunate circumstances. The homosexual couple cannot respond to this duty because of the very nature of their relationship.
Let me give a comparison, not perfect in all respects, but illustrative I think. Adults have a duty to participate in the development of society, and so they have a right to political participation. This is commonly realized by having the right to vote. Minors, since they lack the power to judge sufficiently critically in social matters, do not have a duty of participation or its correlative right. It is clear, however, that there are going to be in every society some adults who are not practically capable of political participation (due to defects in their use of reason, perhaps). Nonetheless, the law has to legislate for what is true for the most part: hence it permits all adults to vote, but never minors.
Furthermore, it should be remembered that the duty of marriage is not just procreation; it is also child-rearing. The complementarity of the sterile heterosexual couple naturally equips them for this duty and so, even if they cannot generate their own offspring, they can rear adopted children. As I noted in my article, homosexual couples have no track record in this department that would warrant the changing of civil law to allow same-sex marriage.
Berkley also objects that I did not address the subject of the natural law. I was not trying to slip out of a difficulty here. It was simply because all journals, understandably, restrict the length of articles: I had to cut my cloth accordingly. My sense from Berkley’s comments is that he identifies the natural law with the laws of nature since he argues that, because some animals display homosexual behavior or indiscriminate mating, this must be part of the natural law.
I do not think the laws of nature and the natural law are the same thing. The laws of nature are the biological laws of necessity that govern living beings. There is, however, another law — a moral law — that governs creatures that are capable of voluntary actions. Therefore, what occurs at the level of the laws of nature cannot be seamlessly transferred to the natural law that governs human actions. Having lived many years on a farm, I am aware that male wildfowl force themselves (often violently) upon the females in order to impregnate them. This seems to be a law of nature since the males all do it and with obvious compulsion. Now, this is natural (in light of the laws of nature) but, I would suggest, it is contrary to the natural law (moral law) among human beings. The civil law certainly prosecutes this behavior among humans (but not among ducks). We could also explore the sexual cannibalism of the praying mantis and its application to human beings — but again, sadly, space does not permit it.
That said, I do accept that the natural function of certain powers given to man is significant in the understanding of the natural/moral law. The natural function of the sexual powers is procreation. Hence it is a misuse of this power to use it in a way contrary to its purpose. The same is true of the power of speech. It is for the communication of truth. To use it contrary to this is commonly held to be wrong: We call it lying.
Finally, as to whether, as Berkley claims, marriage came onto the scene much later than “breeding” (procreation and child-rearing), I simply reply that it did not, according to the evidence we have. When the curtain rises on human history, we find advanced cultures with marriage already in place as a fundamental social structure. We can speculate about what we would like to have happened in pre-history, but seeing that it is just that — pre-history — this is mere speculation. Anyhow, the line of argument forwarded by Mr. Berkley is not an argument in favor of same-sex marriage but against marriage as such, which, I fear, is behind the whole project of extending marriage to all comers: One universalizes something until it no longer has any distinct existence.
"Old" Does Not Necessarily Mean "Good"
Mitchell Kalpakgian’s article “Why Read Old Books”? (Jul.-Aug.) was delightful, especially his continuous reference to the old man in Robert Frost’s poem “The Mountain.” I like to read old books myself; in fact, I have a long list of ones I hope to read someday.
That said, I would caution Dr. Kalpakgian that old does not necessarily mean good. As the quip goes, age and wisdom do not always come together; sometimes age comes alone. At least in his very last paragraph he qualifies what he means by referring to “old and great books.” May he continue to qualify his references as such.
I look forward to more articles by him.
Fr. Joseph Fishwick
Mitchell Kalpakgian’s article was a gift. He is a very special writer, and as soon as I see his name I know that I am in for some good reading — the best. His article was about reading old books, something that has increasingly been my personal link to the virtue of human hope, as the intellectual and political world seems to slip more and more into apparent entropy. His article happened to fit in beautifully with a surprise I received the very week before I received the issue in which it appeared.
My oldest granddaughter made a request that left me nonplussed: She asked me for my personal top 50 books. Her reading was at a standstill and she seemed to be looking for a different perspective. I was secretly frightened by the request, yet flattered. Within a day, I set to work scanning my personal bookshelves.
The first problem I faced was realistically confronting the fact that I am ill-prepared to sift through the literature I have read. My memory is a long way from that of a scholar, or even as good as I would like it to be. Then, when I reflected that I have been reading serious books for 70 years at an almost steady pace, I realized what a task she had set before me, to which I had foolishly agreed.
During one year, when I was in high school, I read 37 novels. Novels can be a great window into the human condition. As such, they are an essential aspect of early education. As we get older, however, we need to move our reading into the substantive application of what we have learned. Still, novels allow us periodic breaks that help relieve the tension that can overcome us as we confront the great contradictions and affirmations of real life. In this regard, and as an aside, I admit to reading my first Louis L’Amour Western not so long ago. Good literature shouldn’t be judged solely on the quality of sentence structure or the depth of thought. L’Amour fills a niche that, though not unique, certainly matches the skill of most writers of that genre, and he is fun to read. Vive L’Amour!
Two years ago I read Joseph Pearce’s biography of Solzhenitsyn and judge it to be invaluable for any reader who wants to understand something of what happened during the past century. It is at the head of the list of books that I’m compiling for my granddaughter. (I had the privilege of recording an audio CD of the book for Ignatius Press.) Also included is Christopher Dawson’s Progress and Religion, followed by Jan de Volder’s Damien, and Walter Ciszek’s He Leadeth Me. As I continued compiling my list, I began to include more biographies, and became aware of a kind of progression in my reading. I realized that it had followed a path from philosophical, theological, and spiritual studies through the beautiful interpretive novels and analyses of the 20th century with their wonderful authors, and then on to saintly hagiography as proof of the pudding, so to speak. Is this not a reasonable summary of Catholic literature’s natural process and intent?
It would be interesting to take a poll of your readers to see what they would put on their “top 50” hit parade. It might be a good test of where we are as a people and what needs to be emphasized in the “new evangelization.”
I intend, incidentally, to give each of my married children and independent grandchildren a Christmas gift subscription to the NOR. It is great!
Ed. Note: We invite readers to submit lists of their top 10 favorite books (50 would require too much space) that they would recommend to young readers. Letters to the editor can be submitted via our website, www.newoxfordreview.org, by clicking the “send a letter” link, or via U.S. mail to: NOR, Letters Dept., 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706.
We offer discounted rates for Christmas gift subscriptions. For details, see the notice on page 5 of this issue.
Bible-Study Success Story
Thank you for providing me with a free subscription through your Scholarship Fund, and thanks also to all those who donate to this fund. I share the magazine with other inmates here and it goes a long way.
Over the years I have read letters to the editor from Catholic inmates in other prisons who’ve had problems with Protestant chaplains, who’ve had trouble obtaining Catholic material, and who’ve been denied Catholic Bible-study classes. We’ve had some of the same problems here with our Protestant chaplain (an ex-Catholic, now a Baptist minister) and his Protestant inmate staff. For 12 years we fought to have Catholic Bible-study classes — with no results. His response was always the same: “no room” or “you don’t need that; we’ll teach you.” Seven days a week an inmate could attend a Protestant Bible-study class.
Within days of his retirement, the succeeding chaplain (another Protestant) gave us a room and a schedule. We’ve collected Catholic books, which we paid for ourselves, with the help of some donations, and found a Catholic Bible course we could order by mail, that is free to all prisoners from Catholic Home Study Service (P.O. Box 363, Perryville, MO 63775-0363).
Although we do have Catholic Mass each week, with RCIA class (on the same day) and volunteers who come from the local parish, we established the Catholic Bible study by ourselves, without their help. In three years, by pooling our money and with donations, we have brought in over 150 books, 11 DVDs that teach the faith, and a catechism course (donated by the parish) — all with the approval of the chaplain. An inmate who was transferred here from another prison, and is the only Catholic on the chaplain’s inmate staff, once said, “Y’all have the best system I ever seen at any prison.”
One last note. People who are in prison need the support of bishops and priests — and of laymen who can help financially support Catholic prison ministries. Inmates, you need to act now to support yourselves by pooling your money and buying books for a library and getting Bible-study and catechism courses. And you need to find other committed Catholics to pass the torch to when you leave. Me, I’m committed to supporting my Church and prison ministries, and I plan to send the Catholic prisoners here whatever help they need when I get out.
I am writing with a glad heart, for your magazine is a continuing source of comfort and inspiration to me. I always read every page, front cover to back, and I’m always stimulated and encouraged by your orthodoxy, your love of the Catholic faith, and your respect for the living tradition of Catholicism.
I am so grateful that you’ve kept the print edition of the NOR; I find that I simply don’t remember as well anything I read off of a screen. Besides, no matter how small they make these electronic gadgets, they’re simply not as portable and convenient as a magazine.
Please accept the enclosed donation to your fund drive and to your Scholarship Fund for needy prisoners. I pray daily for those who are incarcerated, both justly and unjustly, and for their jailors as well. May God’s grace and peace be with them! May the Lord Jesus bless you too, for your fine work and zeal.
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Fr. Stravinskas has been a pain in the neck of OSV for a long time.