Volume > Issue > Letters to the Editor: May 2021

Letters to the Editor: May 2021

Female Emancipation & the Set-Aside Man

I read with great interest Jason M. Morgan’s insightful, provocative, and, frankly, disturbing two-part series, “The Fetus as Homo Sacer” (Jan.-Feb. and March), in which he argues that the modern state can function only with a class of persons who exist in legal limbo, who are allowed to live or may be put to death at the discretion of the sovereign. Morgan goes so far as to claim that within the context of the modern liberal society, this disenfranchised class is “the pivot on which turn law, culture, and civilization.” In other words, a victim class is necessary in order for the power of the sovereign to be justified. If the sovereign’s rule is to be authentic and have the authority to enforce order, he must have power over life and death itself; thus, a class of beings the homo sacer or “bare life” must exist over whom the sovereign may exercise such power.

One must ask: What kind of society is Morgan talking about? He seems to claim that all political systems are based on the need for a homo sacer class; that, going all the way back to ancient pagan cultures, this is just the way it is. This, of course, is the disturbing aspect of his thesis.

If Morgan is describing only the modern liberal state, he is right that such a state requires a homo sacer to justify its “civilizing barbarity.” In America today, unborn children are this class of homo sacer. The unborn are, by law, formally reduced to nonpersons, and thus there is no penalty for those who slay them. Indeed, the unborn are slaughtered at the rate of 2,500 per day in our country. But it is not our public rulers who hold the power of life and death over the unborn. This power has been bequeathed to private citizens, and to particular private citizens, as women alone rule over life and death in the womb via legalized abortion. Morgan explains this shift using Hobbesian principles, that private citizens in our democracy have become “little sovereigns.”

For hundreds of years prior to the legalization of abortion, the black race made up the homo sacer class in America. Ironically, while our culture grew in sensitivity to the rights of members of the black race in the 1960s, thanks to the civil rights movement, rights were already being stripped from the unborn. Morgan argues that Roe v. Wade essentially replaced “one homo sacer with another.”

However, other social conditions caused the unborn to be removed from their place as a protected class within the body politic. Legal abortion was made possible by two factors: the sexual “revolution” and the rise of radical feminism.

The sexual revolution, aided by the invention of a reliable form of birth control, separated sexual acts from the begetting of life; such sexual license requires a homo sacer class.

Radical feminism demands that women exercise absolute self-determination if they are to be truly free. This self-determination requires control over the processes of nature, as female physiology is an obstacle to public power. Women need abortion to break free from the shackles of the female nature that “enslave” them to procreation, motherhood, and the responsibilities of raising children. These keep them tied to the private, and thus insignificant, realm of family and home, where women’s gifts remain undeveloped and unappreciated.

Female emancipation is achieved by wielding complete power over life and death. I would argue that this power of the autonomous woman created by Roe is more daring than anything any other culture has erected on the back of its homo sacer class.

Morgan argues that a requirement for establishing a homo sacer class is that those who belong to it are not regarded as persons by the sovereigns, big or little. The killing of the unborn, however, has gone well past this moral prerequisite, as the current ethics of self-determination must dispense with it. Many proponents of abortion and, indeed, even those who actually kill the unborn recognize that the unborn are human beings. Their personhood simply doesn’t matter!

The assertion that there is a need for excusable cultural violence, that organized society requires outcasts, is based on a perverted anthropology. One cannot help but wonder whether Morgan envisions a Christian antidote to this system. Certainly, a society that must justify its power by creating a class without power cannot be squared with Catholic social teaching. Does the Church offer a viable political alternative? If so, it must be a society that does not require an outcast homo sacer class, and indeed condemns such an idea!

But Morgan does not present an alternative. He gives the impression that such is merely the way of the world. He even warns that any class of persons could potentially become that unprotected “bare life.” God help us if this is so. A truly Christianized society that recognizes that all human beings are created in God’s image and whose lives are inviolable is the antidote. If not, then Christianity is impotent and really has nothing to say. This certainly cannot be so. And we must insist that it not be so!

Monica Migliorino Miller, Director

Citizens for a Pro-Life Society

South Lyon, Michigan

Jason M. Morgan’s comprehensive and challenging article series “The Fetus as Homo Sacer” is, for this reader, the stuff of troubled dreams.

The historical record for the outcast, the homo sacer, is compelling: Children of the very early Roman republic resided in an existential twilight, neither alive nor dead but for the sufferance of the paterfamilias. He could put his children to death, or he could send them into slavery (with an option to repurchase them at a later date). His sovereignty was absolute.

The yurodivy, or holy fool, of old Russia, a Janus-like figure, was held in both contempt for his wild and noisome aspect and awe as an innocent receptacle of divine favor. His person was inviolate. Even the tsar dared not disturb him.

Today, we might smile at the image of the yurodivy, condemn the excesses of the paterfamilias, and consider the immolation of the newborn on the sacred censer of Moloch incomprehensible. Surely, in our self-absorbed and enlightened times, the homo sacer can have no purchase on us. We have evolved beyond such a need. Morgan suggests otherwise.

The priests of Moloch are with us today, their ceremonial robes the white coat of the physician tasked with denying life to the unborn through a ghastly ritual of sacrifice for “the common good.”

A troubling leitmotif running through Morgan’s series is an oppressive sense of inevitability and necessity. The homo sacer has always been with us, is with us, and will be with us like an incubus hovering over us eternally.

I do wonder. Is homo sacer woven tightly and irrevocably into God’s creation, or is homo sacer a voluntary construct of our free will? I would hope the latter. If the former? Then mankind resides in the darkest corner of an impossibly dark closet with no exit.

John Karkalis

Cleveland, Ohio

Jason M. Morgan’s article series can be read as a critique of American society, a kind of how-did-we-get-here trip through the modern mind. But I prefer to see it as prophecy, with Morgan as our modern-day Jeremiah.

Jeremiah the prophet was the doomsayer of the sixth-century B.C. who told the people of Judah, “Don’t fight the Babylonians; we can’t beat them. The Lord isn’t on our side this time.” The king and people of Judah didn’t listen, opting instead for war. In short order, they were humiliated in battle and led away on foot to Babylon, their city and temple smoking in ruins behind them.

The Babylon we are facing today is, of course, the militant army of abortion, for whom the death of the unborn is a perverse sacrament. Persuasion, as a tactic, will not stop the American abortion holocaust. Why? Because, as Morgan explains in careful detail, we’re fighting the wrong enemy. This adversary doesn’t come from the world of ideas; he comes from the world of myth, of things we know before we’re old enough to talk.

The stories of mythology are truths we understand in our guts. The particular myth that sums up our situation, according to Morgan, is the story of the homo sacer, the “set-aside man,” who can be killed by anyone without consequences. This is an old story, dating back to ancient Rome, when such people lived in fear, knowing their lives were worth nothing. But we have examples from our own era: condemned prisoners, African-American slaves, and especially the unborn in their millions.

We’re losing the war because our opponents know full well that the unborn are human beings. Abortion kills such people? No problem. They must die so others can live in freedom. Be warned about this enemy, says Morgan, and be prepared for exile of some kind.

To this I’ll add another thought: Holiness is the only answer to so deep and pernicious an idea. Some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting. A long Lent may be arriving soon.

Jim Baird

Novato, California

Jason M. Morgan provides what appears to be a logically sound and interesting analysis of the abortion epidemic in America and its future, but his understanding rests on a theoretical foundation informed by the works of such as Michel Foucault and Thomas Hobbes. No matter how sound the analysis seems, if a study about life and morals is based foundationally on views espoused by these philosophers, how could it possibly be correct? My judgment is that this is impossible simply because these philosophies reject the basic principles of a Christian understanding of man.

I was surprised to see an article based uncritically on the thinking of Foucault and Hobbes in the NOR.

Gary Meunier

Fort Myers Beach, Florida

JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:

I am grateful for these four letters, which raise four different points. In the spirit of my homo sacer series, I will start at the end and work backwards.

Gary Meunier provides the chance to clarify that I am no Hobbesian or Foucauldian, not by a long shot. My aim was to be as critical as I could of the philosophies of Hobbes and Foucault by showing how they work together, in our liberal dispensation, for the denial of humanity and the destruction of the human person. The “theoretical foundation” Mr. Meunier mentions is what the liberal state uses to justify the murder of the tiniest and weakest among us. In my articles, I was arguing that this theoretical foundation produces the “abortion epidemic” that Meunier rightly brings to the fore.

Jim Baird’s letter cuts to the quick, and he puts the matter much better than I did when he says, “People lived in fear, knowing their lives were worth nothing.” This is exactly the horror of the modern liberal state. Recently, there was a contretemps about pregnant women and flight suits. The response by a member of the military filled me with dread. He said, in effect, that the military had consulted with doctors and had come up with a detailed plan to allow pregnant women to be more lethal in combat. How many of our countrymen blinked when they heard that the liberal state prioritizes the lethality of pregnant women? I suppose it all gets categorized as “equality” and tidied up as a liberal ideal. The truth, though, is that we are all the homo sacer. We are all the prisoner, all the slave. We are all on the liberal state’s death row. We live in fear, knowing our lives are worth nothing.

John Karkalis speaks of the “priests of Moloch” being still “with us today.” I remember learning that the teaching hospital affiliated with a university I once attended taught abortions to med-school students. Apparently, everyone who passes through the program takes a turn dismembering a preborn child. I don’t think that particular hospital is the only one in the United States that teaches abortions. The ancient Enemy truly hates us, hates all mankind. He uses babies to ensnare physicians in a net of cold-blooded murder. Yes, there are pro-life doctors who refuse this grisly initiation ritual. But most doctors practicing today have found a way to accommodate vivisection in their conscience. It is little wonder that we are encouraged by these same physicians to take vaccines distilled from stolen lives. The Devil has set up an entire economy of hatred and death and called it healing.

Those who reject this empire of lies may perhaps rightly be called holy fools. I was not thinking of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot when writing about the homo sacer, but I was thinking of his truly disturbing book The Possessed. A society without Christ is truly one in which we become playthings of the Devil.

Monica Migliorino Miller’s thoughtful letter reminds us, in this regard, of the importance of the Social Kingship of Christ. Miller has understood my series perfectly and gives us a history of how radical feminism and the sexual “revolution” worked together to make women the enemies of their own bodies and their babies in the name of a twisted ideological ideal. This is precisely the dark dynamic I was tracking in the Hobbesian homo sacer politics of the modern liberal state.

But Miller also flips my series over to find what is missing. I think a distinction must be made here. Catholic social teaching does indeed offer a “viable political alternative.” But the alternative is to the liberal, anti-human Leviathan that rules most of the world today, not to the homo sacer principle itself. Miller speaks of a “Christian antidote to this system” of contempt for human life. A Christian alternative, yes. May Christ rule our hearts and our world. But a Christian antidote, I’m afraid, is not possible this side of Heaven. The homo sacer idea is, at root, a commentary on the fallen nature of man. We can learn to live as Christ taught, but we cannot be inoculated against the sin that makes the homo sacer possible, even necessary, in the first place. Consider that the Vatican is a Catholic city-state. Consider next Theodore McCarrick.

Before Roe, many poor American women (many of them black) were introduced to abortionists by Christian pastors in what was ostensibly one of the most Christian societies on earth. Dante lived in a time and place steeped in Catholicism, and yet his works are filled with figures who debased themselves in every conceivable way.

Cardinal Newman wrote that “Christianity is at once a philosophy, a political power, and a religious rite.” All three of these facets of Christianity have to deal with man as he is. Christ came to undo the sin of Adam — the religious part — and to overcome the darkening of our minds by that sin — the philosophical part. As for the political part, we must remember that, in Genesis, the first human society was marred by a premeditated murder. It’s for just this reason, because our political order springs from a crime, that the homo sacer we will have always among us. Even in a “truly Christianized society that recognizes that all human beings are created in God’s image and whose lives are inviolable,” there will be no “antidote.”

May the homo sacer, especially the littlest victims dismembered in the womb, remind us why we must work for the Social Kingship of Christ. But even in a Christian society, let us never let down our guard.

Fasting: The Orthodox Way

I enjoyed Christopher Beiting’s reflections in “Fasting: A Personal Witness” (March). Here, I raise two items for further thought.

First, Dr. Beiting states that fasting is almost unheard of today. Yet, Orthodox Christians throughout the world (including in Texas and the United States) have long-established canonical practices of fasts (and feasts!). Requirements vary slightly among jurisdictions; however, as a parishioner of St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Austin, I follow the fasting guidelines set by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.

With rare exceptions, for example, the norm is to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, controlling the amount of food eaten as well as abstaining from meat and meat products (including fish), dairy and dairy products, and olive oil and wine. The Wednesday fast commemorates the betrayal of Christ; the Friday fast remembers His death. We entered the fast of Great Lent with Forgiveness Vespers on Sunday (on March 14 this year), orienting ourselves in prayer and repentance toward the feast of Great and Holy Pascha (May 2). The dietary restrictions are similar to the Wednesday/Friday fast with fish permitted only on the feasts of the Annunciation (March 25) and Palm Sunday (April 25), and wine and olive oil permitted on most Saturdays and Sundays. The first week of Great Lent is often called “clean week”: Those who have a blessing to do so maintain a strict fast for several days. Other fasting periods include the Nativity fast (Nov. 15 until the Nativity feast), the Apostles’ fast (variable start, but ending on the feast of SS Peter and Paul, June 29), and the Dormition fast (Aug. 1 until the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, Aug. 15).

Fasting is an ancient Christian practice. The Wednesday/Friday fast and the Lenten fast, for example, are discussed in the 85 canons of the Holy Apostles. To submit in obedience to the fasts of the Church (just as to celebrate the feasts!) is to remember that Christians are set apart. While we live in our fallen and broken world, we must orient all aspects of our lives toward God. Each week as we plan the menu and make a grocery list, my wife and I must look at the Christian calendar of fast periods and feast days to determine what meals we may prepare for our family.

Second, though Dr. Beiting recognizes that, with proper orientation, the spiritual benefits of fasting can be significant, his advice to check first with a medical doctor seems to miss the mark. Consult first with your spiritual father. We submit to the discipline of fasting following the canons of the Church, within a parish community, under the guidance of our spiritual fathers. Fasting requirements are not juridical in the sense of laws that should never be broken; rather, they function as a way to humble the body and guide us as a community to Christ. How long should you go without food? What foods should you avoid? Medical advice might also be necessary, but first ask for guidance from and submit in obedience to a good spiritual father.

Fasting helps develop Christian humility; we are to submit to Christ and His Church. Not all are spiritually ready to go many days without any food. Without proper prayer and guidance, such a hard fast could lead to spiritual disillusionment and disorientation. But, if in obedience I can learn to control what I eat and how much I eat, perhaps I can also learn to curb what I say and do, to give alms, to love God more than I love myself, and to repent for my sins. We are not saved by fasting but through Christ.

Here, I leave your readers with the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), read in every Orthodox Church on Pascha. It proclaims, in part:

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast…. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense…. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of His honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour. And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts…. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.

It would be worth determining why the Christian discipline of fasting ceased to be central for Roman Catholicism and the West.

Mark J. Cherry

Austin, Texas

CHRISTOPHER BEITING REPLIES:

Honesty forces me to admit that, although the primary cause for my efforts at fasting was the friend I mentioned in my article, the witness provided by Dr. Cherry (we’ve crossed paths at academic conferences over the years) and his fellow parishioners has also been inspirational. This is why I asked the NOR to send him a copy of my article to review, in the fond wish that I would receive from him precisely the response I did. I was hoping for a concise and erudite explanation of Orthodox practices of fasting and got everything I hoped for. Thanks, Mark; in this, as in so many things, you do not disappoint!

One small comment to Mark: Though I take your admonition to consult first with one’s spiritual father before beginning a fast, the problem is that, since fasting is something of a lost practice among Catholics and has pretty much never been a practice among Protestants, there really isn’t anybody to consult! These days, it’s almost impossible to find a priest who’s willing to serve as a spiritual director. And as to finding one who can advise on matters like these? Hen’s teeth! The other reason why I advised consulting with a doctor first before beginning a long fast is not that I place primary trust in scientific over spiritual authority (I absolutely don’t), but because my wife suffers from hypoglycemia. Were she to attempt the kind of fasts that I have, she would first wind up in sugar shock and then in the hospital, in very short order. I suggest consulting a doctor first because I do not wish to steer anyone wrong by my advice. I am keenly aware that there are medical limitations to some things — I am, after all, living with one.

As to your query about when fasting ceased to be central to Catholicism, I am not informed enough to answer authoritatively. In recent years, significant blame must lie on the botched implementation of the Second Vatican Council. I am not old enough to have experienced Catholic life before the council, but people who are have told me that the abandoning of the traditional Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays — which seemed like a minor thing to some “reformers” — actually wound up doing more damage to Catholic observance among the laity than anyone could have realized.

I acknowledge that being a Catholic is supposed to be more about following Christ than not eating meat on Fridays, but there are cases in which little things matter as much as big ones, and this is one of them. This sort of situation is the price we Catholics pay for lacking the commitment to the concept of Holy Tradition (with a capital “H” and a capital “T”) that you Orthodox have, and it is something I envy.

On the upside, things do seem to be taking a turn for the better, at least in small ways. I’ve noticed in recent years that Church authorities have been much more deliberate about reminding the laity of the need to observe fasting rules on days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and there look to be attempts to restore the fasting-on-Friday rules, during Lent at least. Thin gruel compared to what we once had as Catholics, perhaps, but thin gruel is better than none.

I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the caliber of the priests coming out of the seminaries these days, who seem much more conscious than do their elders of the need to restore some of the devotional and disciplinary practices of the past among the laity. I was heartened during confession a couple of years ago to hear one of these “baby priests” say, when it came time to give me penance, “Have you considered the benefits of fasting as a method of penance? It doesn’t have to be from food, you know — it can be from television or social media or….”

“Oh, yes,” I replied, “I know. I’m on a fast right now. I haven’t eaten in six days.”

He stared at me, goggle-eyed. “You haven’t? Can you actually go that long without food? Have you checked with your doctor to make sure this is okay?”

I reassured him everything was fine and that I was used to this sort of thing.

“Umm, well, we’re going to have to come up with another penance for you, then,” he said.

So, chalk up one more hidden benefit of fasting: Your penances get lighter when you’re living a life of penance!

A Shameful Maligning of a Beautiful Children’s Story

When I read Brian Dunne’s letter (Jan.-Feb.) regarding Ewa Thompson’s guest column (Nov.), wherein she critiques Eleanor Estes’s 1944 Newberry Honor Book The Hundred Dresses, I was drawn in by Dunne’s stout feelings about the book’s subject matter. He made me recall my early school days as the son of French-Canadian immigrants growing up in northern Maine. Having not spoken any English prior to entering the first grade (no state-mandated kindergarten back then) and having to learn the language at the time, I heard my fair share of epithets, including being called a “frog,” as well as hearing insults directed toward my parents.

As a result, I became interested in what The Hundred Dresses was all about. So I purchased a copy and was moved by the story, especially by the transformation of the antagonists, Maddie and Peggy. Afterwards, I dug out my November issue and reread Thompson’s guest column. To put it mildly, I was taken aback by her skew of what I consider a truly beautiful children’s story. So I purchased another copy of the book for my daughter and grandchildren. They absolutely loved the story and did not discern what I told them about the book according to Thompson’s critique. Her guest column in no way, shape, or form captures the true essence of The Hundred Dresses.

The purpose of the story is not to denigrate a poor Polish girl, who epitomizes the Christian axiom to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves (Thompson obviously could not see that theme), but rather to show how two other girls in her class acted toward a person who was different from them and to show their moral transformation. Estes uses little Wanda Petronski as a perfect, symbolic protagonist who rises above antagonistic student behavior and, in the end, is able to change these antagonists into better Christian fellows. It is a remarkable story for all to read, regardless of age.

Yet Thompson uses this exquisite and moral children’s story to promote a view that our country is steeped in inequality toward “Americans of non-Germanic, Central European background, particularly those of Polish ethnicity.” There is no hint of this in The Hundred Dresses. Perhaps all that Thompson was attempting to accomplish was to establish her jealousy toward the Black Lives Matter movement and lament that there is no similar movement for people of East European descent, “particularly those of Polish ethnicity.”

Dr. J. Robert Bois

Foley, Alabama

EWA THOMPSON REPLIES:

Dr. Bois must also be unable to understand why Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a charming story though it is, is generally disliked by African Americans, and why the expression “Uncle Tom” became an invective among blacks.

Cancel-Culture Club

It’s interesting isn’t it, how the list keeps growing. In his editorial “What’s New This New Year” (Jan.-Feb.), Pieter Vree alludes to “the pervasive threat of online censorship. Companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter can, and do, silence voices at will, shutting down the accounts of, and refusing advertising from, those who don’t parrot the current politically correct paradigm.”

Given the recent expulsion of Ryan T. Anderson’s book, When Harry Became Sally, by Amazon — the leadership of which is apparently afraid of how Anderson’s impeccable scholarship might affect senate votes — Vree can add another company to his “cancel culture” list. Especially heinous is Amazon’s ability to expand its “censorship” beyond books to any products sold online by companies that don’t reflect Big Tech ideology, jeopardizing the livelihood of smaller companies that depend on Amazon’s online sales but consider themselves out of sync with a culture at war with traditional values.

A “brave new world” indeed, presided over by the Prince of this World.

Steve Reagles

Professor of Religion, Bethany Lutheran College

Mankato, Minnesota

Ed. Note: To see what the fuss is all about regarding Anderson’s “banned” book, see Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review in our Jul.-Aug. 2019 issue, titled “Transgenderism’s Wicked Lies.”

I am canceling my account with AmazonSmile, which I used to support the NOR. Part of my enclosed donation is to compensate for my refusal to use Amazon in the future.

I cannot support Amazon’s adoption of cancel culture. The company recently banned books that do not share the “progressive” agenda. I encourage the NOR to monitor this dangerous policy at Amazon. At some point, it might provoke the NOR to reconsider its relationship with AmazonSmile.

Paul T. Przybyla

Shirley, Massachusetts

Ed. Note: AmazonSmile allows people who shop at Amazon to direct a half a percentage of their purchase total to the charity of their choice — at no extra cost to the shopper. The donation is made by Amazon itself on behalf of the shopper. Since the NOR qualified as a recognized charity at AmazonSmile in 2014, we have brought in over $3,700 thanks to our supporters. That averages out to over $525 a year. At this point, we’re not in a position to turn away free money! We still have Twitter and Facebook pages too, even though those two social-media sites (especially the former) are active in “canceling” non-progressive viewpoints. Unfortunately, there is no viable alternative to Big Tech right now, one that allows us to reach more people and even bring in funding. When there is, we will take advantage of it.

Print On!

Enclosed please find my donation, half for the continuation of the print edition of the NOR and half for its distribution to prisoners through the Scholarship Fund.

I enjoy and value the print edition of the NOR. Should it be terminated, I suspect I would cease being a subscriber. I do not mean to suggest that the NOR’s other formats and offerings are not of value; rather, it is that I don’t enjoy electronic reading material.

I also think it is a fine deed to reach out to prisoners and to use the NOR as one vehicle to turn them to God and to hope and forgiveness.

The growing censorship practiced online makes imperative the need for the NOR to remain in print. The fight against the growing authoritarian state needs to be waged by all of us, and your magazine is one of our best weapons.

Joseph Giovinco

Nicasio, California

I know my enclosed donation will not ensure that the print edition of the NOR will continue, but I hope that other people will give enough to keep the NOR alive.

I was introduced to the NOR back when it was Episcopalian. The rector of the church I attended had free copies in the back of the church each month. I was challenged by it, as I have been since then, and began subscribing to it once he discontinued his largesse when the NOR became Roman Catholic. I have subscribed on and off since then. There were times when I thought the magazine was becoming too cultish, when an article seemed off the wall or when the letters seemed to take over the issues, but I always came back and renewed. I especially appreciate the book reviews.

I too finally became Roman Catholic, to the dismay of my friends, long after the NOR left its Episcopalian home. The NOR was one of the prods pushing me to cross the Tiber, together with Pope Benedict XVI and a coworker. I’m grateful for all who had a part in my journey home to the dwindling, battered (from inside and out), and divided — but true — Church.

Dorothy Wynne

Williamsville, New York

I appreciate your fine publication. When I started in the seminary three years ago, I took out a subscription. It was a good move. The NOR has helped me keep a balanced understanding of the Church, while the seminary has continued to grow my faith. With the enclosed renewal, I want to keep the trend going for another three years.

Matthew Bischoff

Eaton, Ohio

Dereliction of Duty

I will not be renewing my subscription.

When the world as we knew it ended, it was with anticipation that I looked each month to the NOR to see how the orthodox Catholic world ought to be reacting to circumstances so bizarre as to be called genuinely dystopian. I did not see what I desired.

Instead, Michael S. Rose’s strange article “Countering the COVID-19 ‘Expert’ Narrative” (June 2020) claimed that the coronavirus was being exaggerated and statistics pointed to lockdowns as having no effect. As it was early in the dystopia, I gave him the benefit of time; it certainly seemed plausible that government was using the virus as an excuse to grab power.

But, as the summer wore on, it became more and more apparent that my state of Connecticut was one of only a few that handled the virus responsibly. Our lockdown was eased slowly and carefully, so that only when case numbers fell below a certain threshold were we reopened, and we had a mask order from the beginning. Our case numbers fell to the lowest in the country (or close enough) by mid-summer, and by fall we were a safe haven for the country, with people moving here to flee COVID. While the rest of the nation faced summer surges from reopening too soon or lack of masking, this still held. Cases rose in the fall and winter, but now they are tapering off.

I looked to see if Rose or the NOR was taking this into account. I expected with each issue an update, giving an accurate assessment of the situation. And I did not see it. Reading the NOR, one would think the world was still the same and that there was only a bothersome mass hysteria that, for some reason, wasn’t going away. Virus denial began to exude even from the News You May Have Missed column, with a snarky comment in one that ignoring coronaviruses is “the tried and tested way of managing” them (Dec. 2020). Though the editor clearly did not share this denial, there was no clarification from him either.

I propose a new word for the dictionary: maskophobia. It refers to virus deniers who use religion as an excuse to flaunt masks and safety precautions.

Then came the problem of closing churches. As I pointed out in my letter (Sept. 2020), which the editor graciously published, the bishops were not cravenly bowing to Caesar by closing, but to God Himself, who had clearly sent this divine judgment upon us as an interdict. But instead of recognizing this, the writers of the NOR kept making the plaint that religious freedom was being suppressed and that people who caught COVID by flouting health precautions were somehow martyrs. Such denial rings hollow to me. Instead of a sober analysis of the common good and how it might best be served by the sacrifice of the pretense of normalcy, NOR writers seemed to be stuck in the old world, refusing to face the reality around them.

This, good editor, is a dereliction of your duty. The application of right reason to the dystopian circumstances is desperately needed, and it is not being given. It is time for a careful analysis of the coronavirus situation and the legitimate purpose of big government to feed the poor in an emergency. As I was able to keep my house due to government handouts, I enclose a check to pay for subscriptions for prisoners. But I can no longer endure myself to witness your dereliction.

I have traveled with the NOR since 2003, and it is with grief that I let it go. May you continue to do the work to which you are called.

James Farrell

Meriden, Connecticut

THE EDITOR REPLIES:

For the record, the NOR has never engaged in “virus denial.” The first major article we published on the topic, by Michael S. Rose (June 2020), began with these words: “Is the COVID-19 pandemic a hoax? No, it is not. People have been sick. People have been dying.” Every other article we’ve published about COVID-19 acknowledges the reality, and the danger, of this novel coronavirus. I’m frankly amazed — and not a little disappointed — to have to point this out.

Did Mr. Farrell selectively ignore (or forget) the other corona-themed articles we’ve published? For example, “Zélie Martin & Thérèse of Lisieux on Confronting the Fear of Death” (Jul.-Aug. 2020), in which Louise Carroll Keeley mentions the “real but uncertain prospect of death by COVID-19, for ourselves and the ones we love”; or “Dying Alone During the Pandemic: The Example of St. Augustine” (Sept. 2020), in which Stuart Squires addresses the realities of dying alone while quarantined; or my New Oxford Notebook column “Will the Coronavirus Lockdowns Usher in a Mustard-Seed Church?” (Sept. 2020); or “Nurturing Man’s Spiritual Relationship with Technology” (Nov. 2020), in which Christopher Reilly writes about the “proliferation of video-conferencing” and other applications and devices during the shutdowns; not to mention numerous passing mentions of the pandemic.

No NOR writer has questioned “the legitimate purpose of big government to feed the poor in an emergency” or suggested that “people who caught COVID by flouting health precautions were somehow martyrs.” I’m not sure where or why Farrell got this impression.

Even Farrell’s smoking-gun quote is off-target. The passage from the News You May Have Missed entry he cites (Dec. 2020) reads: “The scientists advocate protecting those most at risk, while those under 65 and without an underlying health condition return to normal life and gradually build up herd immunity. This is the tried and tested way of managing coronaviruses.” There’s absolutely nothing in there about “ignoring” coronaviruses. (And, it should go without saying, the News You May Have Missed items are offered without editorial comment or slant. They are merely snapshots, comprising a portrait of sorts, of the weird world in which we live — yes, including the human foibles and contradictions that have arisen as a result of the pandemic.)

Perhaps Farrell has the NOR confused with First Things, and me with its editor, R.R. Reno. (My name is Pieter Vree, by the way.) Early in the pandemic, in his “Coronavirus Diary” feature, my colleague in New York (which was being devastated by the pandemic) wrote, “The mass shutdown of society to fight the spread of COVID-19 creates a perverse, even demonic atmosphere” (March 23), and “The coronavirus pandemic is not and never was a threat to society” (April 27).

You want to talk about maskophobia? Here’s your prime example. Reno then tweeted that “the mask culture [is] fear driven” and those who wear masks are “cowards” (May 12; he later deleted these tweets after being roundly criticized for them). As if to prove his misguided machismo, Reno wrote about attending an “underground church” and looking for a “speakeasy” where he could “get a beer…with people who dissent from the consensus. It would be pleasant to enjoy the company of those who are not afraid” (First Things, May 13).

And then, the coup de grâce: Reno boasted of blatantly flouting health precautions. After bicycling to New Jersey while maskless, he wanted to ride the ferry back home. “Providentially,” he wrote, “I found a mask in a gutter just before reaching the Staten Island Ferry, allowing me to board and steam back to Manhattan.” Not only was that reckless, unsanitary, and downright weird, it was a horrible example for a public figure to give, much less describe in print. Not surprisingly, Reno later tested positive for COVID-19.

Nothing so “deranged” (to use Rod Dreher’s description of Reno’s ramblings) ever appeared in the NOR.

Reno thinks the lockdowns are “demonic.” Farrell says the coronavirus is “clearly” a “divine judgment.” Perhaps both are correct. I’m not blessed with the spiritual insights these two gentlemen obviously enjoy to say so either way with confidence.

Nor am I willing to say, as Farrell does, that closing churches and barring the faithful from access to the sacraments was an edict from “God Himself.” I don’t claim to know the mind of God. But I do know that these edicts were handed down by state governors and mayors of municipalities — not people normally identified as the Lord’s designates (though some surely like to wield power as if they were God Himself). But I have faith that God can bring good out of any evil, even the shuttering of His churches.

We are always disheartened when we lose readers over differences of opinion. But it is beyond discouraging to lose readers over things we never said or did. As we bid Mr. Farrell adieu, we thank him for his lengthy readership and for his generous parting gift, endowing our Scholarship Fund so that we may offer free subscriptions to more prisoners.

 

©2021 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved.

 

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