In “Evangelicals in the
Church of Mary” (December 2000), Daniel P. Moloney
addresses the problems involved when evangelicals actively
evangelize in Roman Catholic venues. He states that a genuine
commitment to Christ is more important than the location
of one’s ecclesiastical home. While this view may be
surprising to some (both Protestants and Catholics), it
is consistent with received Roman Catholic tradition.
Concerning evangelical evangelization
among Roman Catholic students, Mr. Moloney says that “I could certainly
foresee that some students who were baptized Catholic might decide to convert
to evangelical Protestantism.” Further, “I think such conversions
could, in some instances, turn out to be a good thing. And I think John Paul
II might agree with me.” Let’s turn this situation around: Would I,
as an evangelical Protestant, welcome believing Catholics witnessing among nominal
Protestants, even if it might lead to those Protestants becoming Roman Catholics?
You bet I would. The vision of Catholics such as Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard,
and Ralph Martin witnessing for Christ among pagan Protestant university students
gladdens my heart.
I am involved in an effort, Logos
Ministries, which provides a weekly ecumenical Bible study. The classes
meet in seven venues in Southern California and Arizona. Logos Ministries
Bible classes are sponsored by over two hundred churches representing eighteen
Christian denominations. The ministry was begun by Dr. Bill Creasy, a Roman
Catholic, who has taught a popular course called “Through the Bible in
One Year” in the English Department at UCLA. A few years ago, Dr. Creasy’s
priest asked him to teach a class for lay people in his church in Westwood,
California, and the rest is history. Each week, over four thousand people are
active in the various locations. Creasy is the main teacher and has two colleagues,
one Catholic and one evangelical Protestant.
I have been personally involved in these
classes for several years. I know of no “sheep–stealing” activities
occurring during these classes. All theo logical questions are deferred to
one’s own denominational setting. I think Mr. Moloney would be pleased.
Ralph E. MacKenzie
San Diego Christian Forum
Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church
La Jolla, California
Daniel P. Moloney takes a reflection
of the Holy Father about the nature of discipleship and how grace can abound
outside the Catholic Church and concludes that it’s acceptable “in
some instances” to leave the Church and be a good Protestant rather than
remain in her bosom as a lukewarm Catholic. Mr. Moloney tries to have it both
ways. He can’t say it’s very, very important to be in the Church of
Peter, but it’s acceptable if you’re not as long as you’re in
the Church of Mary. If Protestants and Catholics shared the same gospel, they
would worship in the same church. Most Protestants I know would cringe at the
thought of being in Mary’s Church. Why should one even accept Mr. Moloney’s
premise that a good Protestant is necessarily better than a bad Catholic? Both
states contain serious spiritual dangers according to the teaching of the Catholic
This treacle by Mr. Moloney, who apparently
is an orthodox Catholic, is another piece of evidence that Catholics (and Protestants)
need to reacquire a seriousness about what’s at stake with respect to church
membership, namely, their souls. Mr. Moloney’s insouciance about this contains,
oddly, a tinge of condescension toward sincere Protestants. The Catholic Church’s
nuanced teaching on the condition of souls, whether Catholic or Protestant,
can help people be charitable toward those with whom they may disagree, but
it was never intended to be a license for religious indifferentism or gentlemanly
negotiation of acceptance of some status quo, e.g., “You try to accept
the Pope and we’ll work on accepting Jesus into our hearts as our personal
Lord and Savior.” If the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the
truth, why, out of charity, would a Catholic encourage evangelicals to lead
his fellow Catholics out of the Church? What type of message does this send
to Protestants about the seriousness of the Church’s claims? You don’t
have to be obsessed with sheep stealing to be concerned about this. Maybe our
energies should be channeled toward bringing forth in the Catholic Church what
people have found in her for centuries, viz., the total truth about Jesus Christ
and the peace and joy that derives therefrom.
I appreciated Daniel P. Moloney’s
article regarding the expectations, similarities, and differences between evangelicals
A few thoughts come to mind, based on
my own experiences in working with a wide range of Catholics and evangelicals,
both because of my experience of being a student in a Catholic graduate school
(Loyola University of Chicago) and working primarily with evangelical service
groups (such as my current position with the Salvation Army).
In our rehabilitation ministry’s
experience with alcoholics, the two largest groups with whom we work are those
with Catholic and Southern Baptist backgrounds. We find them to be remarkably
similar in their general religious formation, which typically did not incorporate
religion as an internalized factor in their daily lives and decisions.
Many evangelicals “grow up in church”
in ways that are quite similar to “cradle Catholics.” They learn similar
doctrines and parallel, if not identical, approaches to how one can be seen
as loyal to the church without committing oneself to a personal relationship
One interesting example of this is a
friend of mine, a psychologist, who grew up in an evangelical tradition, but
has recently converted to Catholicism because he believes it “more pure
and more moral” in its foundational theology. As with many conversions,
his was stimulated by a personal experience in which his wife of seven years
divorced him, and the evangelical church of which they were a part refused to
make a stand against this. He felt that this was a travesty, and began to search
for a church that would have a higher moral position concerning the sanctity
of marriage and the family. His journey led him to the Roman Catholic Church,
where he now feels that he has internalized his religion in a new, more personal,
and more dependable fashion.
My experience is that Roman Catholics
and Protestant evangelicals both share many traditions of Christian education
and many subdivisions of religious experience, although they may view these
through different lenses and historical perspectives. Perhaps it is time that
we got more comfortable with the crossing back and forth between evangelical
commitments and Catholic commitments. We might even learn a few things from
each other, and find out that there are many complementary and even supportive
experiences we could provide to each other.
Captain John R. Cheydleur
Territorial Social Services Secretary
The Salvation Army
West Nyack, New York
I want to thank Daniel P. Moloney for
his article. As a Protestant, I find myself in the quandary of appreciating
the wisdom of the Pope and the Catholic Church but being unable to agree ultimately
with various Catholic doctrines. To see that the Pope can envision his role
as that of a servant to all who submit to Christ, even those outside the Catholic
Church, only increases my respect for him. I wish more Christians would be so
willing to serve each other.
Daniel P. Moloney replies:
I first want to thank all the people,
both Catholics and evangelicals, who wrote to me privately to express how much
they liked the article. I expected that some people would not understand or
would disagree with my argument, but I did not expect the warm and genuinely
excited reactions from those whose own experience has led them to see Christ
on the other side of the long border between contemporary Catholic and evangelical
religious experiences. It’s one thing to discuss evangelical–Catholic
relations on the level of theology; it’s another to make it work in practice.
To Ralph E. MacKenzie and others engaged in this complicated ministry (on behalf
of the Church of Mary, one might say), I certainly wish the best.
“If the Catholic Church possesses
the fullness of the truth,” David Lancaster asks, “why, out of charity,
would a Catholic encourage evangelicals to lead his fellow Catholics out of
the Church?” This question misstates my position slightly—I don’t
“encourage evangelicals” to do anything other than minister to other
evangelicals—but it does exemplify the conservative Catholic mindset that
I most wanted to disturb with my article. As I said numerous times and in different
ways, I believe that the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, and that
a person will be most deeply happy only when he is on fire for Christ within
the Catholic Church. But many baptized Christians have a less perfect relationship
with Christ, less perfect either in jurisdiction or in charity. The Pope, quite
sensibly, thinks that perfection in charity is more important than perfection
in jurisdiction, and my article was an attempt to show how this might apply
to the question at hand. In doing so, I tried to make it clear that all Christians,
including Protestants, need the spiritual direction, pastoral leadership, and
nourishing grace that Christ commissioned Peter and his successors to provide.
Rather than insouciance, I think this shows a very serious commitment to saving
as many souls as possible. The Church has a lot more to offer those who submit
to it completely, I agree, because submission to the Catholic Church is submission
to Christ’s will that his flock be fed by Peter. But surely those who love
Christ passionately though imperfectly are more likely to submit to that will
than those who hardly love him at all.
I very much welcome Captain John R. Cheydleur’s
point that “growing up in church” can lead to routinized religion
and lukewarmness among evangelicals too. Communicating one’s zeal to one’s
children is difficult in any religious tradition, and it is not unexpected that
children who do not share their parents’ fervor might feel the lack and
seek God elsewhere. I’m a little uncomfortable with his phrase “the
crossing back and forth between evangelical commitments and Catholic commitments”—to
me that sounds too casual for such an important matter—but I think I get
his point. Catholics are already copying Protestant techniques for generating
enthusiasm in their children (there’s even a growing Catholic niche within
Contemporary Christian Music), and evangelicals are tinkering with the model
of Catholic education in their own Christian schools. More substantively, many
Catholics appreciate the straightforward earnestness of evangelical devotion,
while evangelicals are beginning to appropriate the spiritual exercises and
theological precision developed in the Catholic tradition. This is possible
only because Catholics and evangelicals both have a rich love for Christ, and
want it to get richer.
As a Protestant, David Hafvenstein likes
the idea of the Pope, and the Church more broadly, as his servant, and I have
to confess that as a Cath olic, I do too. There aren’t enough good teachers
and pastors in the modern world for Protestants to ignore the Catholic Church;
there aren’t enough good Christians in the world for the Church not to
help all those who wish to follow Christ do so as best they can.
James K. Fitzpatrick’s ingenuously titled “A
Pro–Life Loss of Nerve?” (December 2000) utterly
fails to address the central matter of the issue he raises,
and substitutes instead a lame and self–contradictory
His first fourteen paragraphs make a
chillingly accurate presentation of the arguments of the more articulate pro–life
“shooters.” I would congratulate him did I not feel that in doing
this much well while doing the rest poorly he is likely to inspire more simple–minded
“shooters” to follow through on the logic of the argument. I say this
having read a number of the things advocates of “pro–life violence”
have published over the years and having corresponded at length with Paul Hill,
who is on death row in Florida for a double murder outside an abortion clinic
To argue that the principal reason very
few of us in the pro–life cause have joined those militant ranks is because
we believe “the Round Table has not yet been broken” is a great error.
It is an error, first, because the metaphor is imprecise. It is also an error
because the logical conclusion is that once we feel the vague attributes of
a “broken Round Table” have been reached, it will become acceptable
Christian ethics to shoot abortionists. Finally, it is an error because the
reason the Christian does not advocate or practice shooting abortionists is
grounded in biblical ethics, rather than some finger–in–the–breeze
sense of the political or social climate.
Briefly put (and I have put it at book
length in a long work on the subject, “Shattering the Image,” accessible
at the website www.oakand yewpress.com), the Christian does not shoot abortionists
because to do so fits all the prerequisites by which the Bible defines murder,
and allows for none of the biblical exceptions regarding taking human life.
Mr. Fitzpatrick refers to the infernal
conspiracy between mother and abortionist. Given the distribution of labor (an
unfortunate choice of words) I see between the mother and abortionist, neither
of them is in fact a lawbreaker until the moment the procedure begins. The innocent
third party cannot live apart from the one coconspirator, nor can he in any
way defend himself against the other, yet there is no conceivable situation
in which a fourth party could actually defend him without participating in cold–blooded
murder—planning, carrying a weapon for the purpose, lying in wait, and
carrying out the plan. This violates God’s command that it is not individual
citizens, but the civil authority, that is responsible “for the punishment
of evildoers” (1 Peter 2).
James H. Trott
James K. Fitzpatrick makes a thoughtful
point about the tendency of pro–life advocates to treat those who engage
in abortion as misinformed, errant neighbors rather than as murderers. There
is, I think, another reason for this tendency: an unconscious recognition of
the difficulty in empirically proving the claim that life begins precisely at
conception. People may generally be unaware of the historical lack of agreement
among the fathers of the Church on when the fetus possesses a soul, but they
likely sense at some level of their mind that their pro–life stance is
personally based more on passionate belief than on demonstrable fact. This underlying
awareness possibly also contributes to their disinclination to treat those who
participate in abortion as murderers.
William J. Scheick
If the various polls and surveys on the
subject are even partially correct, there are millions of men and women who
would unhesitatingly describe themselves as pro–life who also regularly
use the contraceptive pill, which is known to act, at least some of the time,
as an abortifacient. Mr. Fitzpatrick’s observation that the conceptus is
not “self–evidently” a human person cuts both ways. These same
couples know that all contraceptives have a real, albeit small, rate of failure
and that the backup to failed contraception is abortion.
The real pro–life loss of nerve
lies in our failure to unconditionally accept the gifts God is trying to give
Gerard S. Brungardt, M.D.
If ever a loss of pro–life nerve
existed, I detect it at the critical moment where James K. Fitzpatrick, having
eloquently laid out the status questionis, begins to justify his answer
in the negative. Exactly the opposite answer is called for by his own reasoning.
That requires not a resort to violence, but to nonviolent confrontation at the
abortuaries. I contend that the best hope for staving off violent confrontation
is nonviolent confrontation.
Mr. Fitzpatrick seems to say that the
answer to today’s violence in the womb is persuasion and civil discourse
leading to the eventual triumph of truth and justice. Is that the best we can
do for the next baby being led to slaughter in the neighborhood abortuary? We
can opt for ongoing civil discourse, but notice that the abortion industry does
not wait to win us over before it starts the suction machines. It does not even
regard us as civil and decent persons. We are the abortionists’ enemy and
they proceed on that principle. Some discourse! The violence against the unborn
is perpetrated by people who show up to kill and is unwittingly abetted by good
people who do not show up to save—and rationalize why they need not since
civil discourse will, like truth, eventually win out.
Pro–lifers: be at least as dedicated
as those who kill. Show up to pray and to support the sidewalk counselors. You
will get to see a mom here and there change her mind because of you. Months
later when she returns with her newborn, you will get to hold the baby you helped
save. There’s nothing to compare with it. You’ll be glad you did.
And for those you don’t save, you’ve got friends in high places.
(The Rev.) Francis G. McCloskey
Hudson, New York
I thank James K. Fitzpatrick for his
argument and insights. I am a Catholic African–American and pro–life.
I believe that abortion and slavery differ only in when the action takes place:
abortion in the womb, slavery from the moment of birth. In either case, a fetus
or a slave is legally considered a nonperson, a subhuman. I believe doctors
and mothers should be imprisoned for abortion. Murder is murder, period. Human
life at every stage either carries a supreme value or it does not.
I am persuaded by Mr. Fitzpatrick to
accept that violence may be urgent and necessary. However, I believe it is more
critical for pro–lifers not to wait until violence becomes the only remedy.
Pro–lifers should take action by getting more involved in the lives of
young men and women so that they can be more effective in eliminating the relational
and economic factors that lead to the resort to abortion.
Armed violence is always an action of
war, necessary only when all creative efforts to make peace have failed. I don’t
believe that is our situation . . . yet. But then every life is too valuable
to wait for peaceful means to be exhausted. My ancestors knew that very well.
So what do we do?
Daniel J. Johnson
James K. Fitzpatrick argues that we extol
as heroes those who tried to free prisoners at Auschwitz through violent means,
whether or not they actually saved a life. But if I kill someone who might be
trying to kill someone else, yet the third party dies anyway, is this morally
equal to someone who tries to save lives through nonlethal means and succeeds?
Mr. Fitzpatrick says that “we would not react patiently to a German who
excused his reluctance to use force in 1942 to free concentration camp inmates
if he argued that he was convinced at the time that he could do more good by
working within the system to end Nazi control than by risking his own arrest
and imprisonment in an armed strike to free a few dozen inmates scheduled for
the gas chambers on a single morning.”
This statement is immorally equivocal.
Pope Pius XII did not demand that people rise up in violence to stop the Nazis,
yet many regard him as a hero because he and the Church were able to save 800,000
Jews through civil disobedience and cultural resistance. Ask yourself: Do you
feel greater respect for a man who tried to free some people at Dachau by launching
a suicide attack against several Nazi guards and failed, or for Oskar Schindler,
who worked nonviolently to rescue victims of the Nazis? And can one state that
the peaceful pro–life activists who have saved hundreds of thousands of
children are less effective or morally inferior to a few terrorists who cannot
with any certainty say they’ve saved a single life at all?
As to moral considerations, pro–lifers
believe that taking a human life is wrong. In violating the rule of law by shooting
a doctor who provides abortions, you are violating the moral law that you are
claiming to uphold. A man is not an “abortionist,” he is a man, endowed
by his Creator with inalienable rights and the dignity that we all possess by
the simple fact that we are people, that we are created in His image. The doctor’s
worth is more than one procedure he may or may not perform on any given day,
and to deny him his dignity as a human being is to dehumanize him and trespass
against the grace of God that we seek to live under and uphold. We do not have
the right to take justice into our own hands: this is Caesar’s domain,
and if Caesar’s law is wrong, in an open society we must oppose that law,
not those who partake of its liberties.
The law is wrong, let no one be mistaken
about that. But the law is wrong because abortion is wrong, and to that extent,
we must be seeking to end abortion, not doctors’ lives. We can do this
best through cultural resistance. This means prayer, exhortation, encouraging
others not to get into compromising situations, and making sure that we ourselves
do not either. This means, most importantly, aiding women who find themselves
in the position of contemplating abortion.
That’s the front line of cultural
resistance and Christian humanism: the response to the culture of death must
be charity, love. I defy anyone to find an ounce of love in a bullet. And I
defy anyone to explain to a doctor’s family—the next time one is gunned
down at an abortion clinic—that the reason their husband or their father
is dead is because someone decided that the Round Table was broken.
Roger Zalneraitis, Jr.
James K. Fitzpatrick replies:
James H. Trott’s case hinges upon
his assertion that “the Christian does not shoot abortionists because to
do so fits all the prerequisites by which the Bible defines murder, and allows
for none of the biblical exceptions regarding taking human life.” Key to
this conclusion is his observation that the abortionist is not “a lawbreaker
until the moment the procedure begins.” I do not agree that this qualification
is crucial. This is why I used the example of anti–Nazi partisans planning
an attack on a concentration camp the night before planned executions. There
would be few objections from moral theologians to this use of physical force,
meant to prevent murderers from completing their evil deed, even if the
guerrillas did everything Mr. Trott objects to—“planning, carrying
a weapon for the purpose, lying in wait, and carrying out the plan.” It
would be of little consequence that the guards in question were not going to
kill anyone until a few hours later than the planned attack against them. This
is why I remain convinced that my application of C. S. Lewis’ “Round
Table” metaphor is not “lame.” Pro–lifers are not willing
to shoot abortionists because they do not see them, their nurses and office
staff—and their patients—as comparably villainous to concentration
camp guards. They are aware of the cultural forces that have led otherwise virtuous
individuals into the pro–choice mentality. This leads to the current forbearance
in respect to them.
I agree with William J. Scheik’s
observation. It is the point I was trying to make when I wrote that “most
pro–life activists would concede that the fetus, especially in the early
stages of its development, is not self–evidently (I repeat: not
self–evidently) a human person; that there very well may be an element
of religious belief that informs their conviction that human life begins at
the moment of conception.” It is this understanding that is at the root
of their condemnation of the application of lethal force against abortionists.
I suspect that Dr. Brunghardt is correct,
though I wish he were not. In fact, I would go farther. I suspect that there
may be more “pro–life” Americans than we think who would not
vote in private to actually end legalized abortion—that they have grown
accustomed to the reality that abortion is there “just in case” something
uncomfortable occurs in their lives in regard to an unwanted pregnancy.
I have no disagreement with Father McCloskey,
and his disagreement with me centers on something he infers which I did not
imply. I am not opposed in any way to nonviolent protests at abortion clinics.
My focus was on why lethal violence is not appropriate against abortionists
and their staffs, when it would be considered heroic to use force to save, for
instance, infants under attack or to free concentration camp inmates.
Daniel J. Johnson writes that he was
persuaded by me “to accept that violence may be urgent and necessary”
to save the lives of the unborn. That was not my intent. My objective was to
demonstrate why violence is not the appropriate response to legal abortions,
in spite of the ugly reality of what takes place in an abortion—and in
spite of the fact that the Church and society as a whole would approve of necessary
violence to save the lives of toddlers facing death at the hands of a murderous
This is where I take issue with Roger
Zalneraitis, Jr. While I agree that violence against abortionists cannot be
condoned (for the reasons stated in my article), I cannot shrug off the troublesome
paradoxes implicit in that stance as easily as he does. I insist that the Church
would not condemn guerrilla action taken to free concentration camp inmates
facing Nazi gas chambers, or the use of force by a civilian to stop killings
such as those that took place at Columbine High School, or in a situation such
as my example of a man killing infants in a nursery. Saying this, of course,
does not demean in any way the efforts of Oskar Schindler. But I don’t
think Schindler would have condemned a guerrilla strike against a concentration
camp. Schindler’s approach and a guerrilla strike would not be mutually
exclusive. Why would he think it immoral to try to save dozens of innocent victims—specific
individual human beings about to be killed—because he was involved in a
separate effort to save thousands of other men and women who were at risk of
being rounded up and placed in those concentration camps?
Thanks for Marc Gellman’s sermon, “Joe
Lieberman as Rorschach Test” (December 2000). The
December issue arrived the day I was scheduled to talk to
a Newman Center group about “Catholic reading.”
Rabbi Gellman’s idea of the “Judaectomy”
that many Jews feel they must perform on themselves in order
to participate in civic discourse rang true (mutatis mutandis)
for these young Catholics, who understand that a certain
unwritten code of etiquette requires them to check their
faith at the door in order to be heard as intellectuals.
The aggressive, strangely obsessive secularization
of civic discourse is mirrored in these young people’s intellectual formation.
They document the phenomenon of the “Catholectomy” when they recall
how they have found themselves saying, defensively, “I’m a Catholic,
but I don’t think like one.” And their institutions encourage them
in this mental self–mutilation.
I wonder if we could do a better job
in the formation of Catholic thinkers—perhaps with Youth Education classes,
perhaps in the Newman Centers—in preventing the assumption that the life
of faith has to be compartmentalized away from all other mental activity, where
it can have no real effect. I know of one program for young Catholics, and I
doubt it’s unusual, where the typical activities consist of having them
read bits of The Celestine Prophecy or watch a videotape of The Sixth
Sense—activities that I now think amount to buying them duck decoys,
in Rabbi Gellman’s unforgettable conceit. I suppose we’re working
to increase their awareness of alternatives to a faith they’ve never really
been encouraged to think of as intellectually challenging. The predictable result
is that they conclude there’s something limited and parochial about their
own tradition, and never see its rich, complex internal dynamics, or its systematic
perspectives on matters outside what they’re accustomed to thinking of
as “church.” They cut off an important part of themselves, and deprive
the rest of us of what might yet make our public life something more than a
scramble for goodies.
Adam Brooke Davis
Department of English
Truman State University
Marc Gellman replies:
Thanks to Professor Davis for his letter.
When I decided to preach about Joe Lieberman during last fall’s High Holidays,
and at the beginning of the real campaign, I had no idea the election would
come to such a judicially and socially convulsive end. Let me briefly share
some of my own convulsive and random post–election reactions to Joe with
I respect the cavils of those who thought
I was too easy on Joe. To the group who see him as “all yarmulke, no torah”
I must say that I too as a pro–life supporter grieve for the spiritual
myopia of a man who obviously feels God commanding him not to drive on the Sabbath,
but who cannot feel God commanding him to protect unborn life by outlawing late–term
abortions that clearly violate Jewish law and values. I tried to give permission
to those Jews who wanted to vote against him despite his Jewishness. I may have
been too nuanced in this, and I must say that I am still unsure about the motives
of those who opposed Joe. Was it truly his politics or was it a lingering anti–Jewishness
seeking a more respectable cast?
My intention was not to defend Joe Lieberman’s
Jewish shortcomings, but to honor along with all spiritually generous people
the historically monumental moment of Joe Lieberman’s selection. In reflecting,
I must say that I do not remember any great Catholic outburst of criticism against
Jack Kennedy in 1960 because he was not a pure enough representative of Catholic
teachings. So, I will not be bound by my political differences with Joe to cast
off any pride or joy at his selection. I am happy and proud and it was time
to say so. I just don’t know whether the anti–Joe folks who have kindly
written to me are as sincerely concerned as they profess about the purity of
his orthodoxy or, perhaps, whether they are struggling with a darker, more ignoble,
I was, of course, saddened by the way
religion talk virtually disappeared from Joe’s lips after the moving and
heroic Nashville and Detroit speeches of the early campaign. Someone obviously
muzzled his refreshing and once passionate religio–political passions.
I also was dismayed at his financial courting of the very Hollywood moguls whose
pornographic and violent products he had been denouncing for years. I was saddened
to see him assent to the campaign to void military ballots, while demanding
that every vote count. But I was reflecting on Sen. Lieberman, not St. Lieberman.
Mostly, I wanted to make a passionate plea to Jews to stop fearing and bashing
Christian conservatives when the first Jew on a national ticket was talking
just like one of them. I wanted to produce a paean of thanks for a country that
has not just let my people in, but has let my people lead.
And, a last note, to those who thought
my comments on “duck decoy Jews” were degrading, insulting, and demeaning—I
certainly hope so.
Michael Novak (“Defining
Social Justice,” December 2000) would have us accept
a definition of “social justice” that totally
disregards common usage. “We must,” he says, “rule
out any use of ‘social justice’ that does not
attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals.”
The notion that government is a means by which moral individuals
can act collectively to help disadvantaged people has no
place in his concept of “social justice.”
A definition of “social justice”
taking common usage into account would include the outcome when government provides
shelter for a person whose earning capacity is not sufficient to provide shelter
for herself and her children. Mr. Novak can argue that it is unjust to coerce
citizens to provide funds so that the mother and her children do not freeze
in the street, but he is in lexicographical limbo when he tries to coopt a term
that is used to describe programs in parishes and dioceses across the country
that encourage governments to assist the disadvantaged.
Novak is overly clever in working his
way to a questionable end result. He begins with a process of disassembly focusing
on the word “social,” which, if applied generally, would require elimination
of many terms of art including one of his favorite bogies, “command economy.”
He then draws on his impressive intellect to forge an elaborate definition that
suits his politics (and, in its complexity, reminds me of my days working with
the Internal Revenue Code).
Exploration of divergent views of what
is just and whether those views can be reconciled would have been a more worthy
challenge for Mr. Novak.
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Common use of “social justice”
may be a residue of Marxism in the same way that flabby nihilism is a residue
of Nietzsche, but Catholics and Jews are not blameless in using the term over
the years in North and South America in support of a vast range of ill–conceived
central government policies. Mr. Novak provides a case to civilize the word
and perhaps we cannot escape its use, but its history is not a happy one. Social
justice was a favorite term of Latin American politicos of left, right, and
center in recent generations and helped foster policies that in practice concentrated
wealth, impoverished the countryside, flooded cities with rural immigrants,
and retarded political and economic development.
Class war in this country is taking us
in an analogous direction, and that term, social justice, is at the center.
Would George W. Bush have felt compelled to call himself a compassionate conservative
were not central government policies aimed at “social justice” widely
perceived as genuine and compassionate? The assumption is that the loss of freedom
involved in social policies is justified because such programs actually achieve
their social objectives. However, we can say with some confidence that central
government schemes aimed at social justice tend to undermine community, retard
economic growth, and exacerbate the differences between the poor and the wealthy
in this country just as they did in South America.
Social justice is socially unjust. Let’s
find a better term.
John H. Penfold
The God of the Philosopher
It is true that, as the theologians say, all things—even
Adam’s and our sin—“tend” to God’s
glory. That said, are we really going to agree with Edward
T. Oakes (“Philosophy
in an Old Key,” December 2000) that someone like
Bryan Magee who refuses to love God with all his
mind is, in the active, volitional sense of the term, giving
glory to God? Does God really think that those who refuse
to acknowledge His existence are giving Him glory? This
sounds much more like the “vain and hollow philosophy”
that decidedly does not give God glory but attempts to rob
Him of it (Colossians 2:8).
At first blush, an agnostic seems to
be more intellectually honest than either the atheist or the theist: the atheist
claims to have such all–encompassing knowledge that he can state definitively
that God does not exist. The agnostic seems more humble, acknowledging that
his knowledge is not so exhaustive, and that God may in fact exist somewhere
beyond the limits of his knowledge. But in fact, he is just as certain and committed
as the atheist: whereas the atheist is absolutely certain that God does not
exist, the agnostic is absolutely certain that God cannot be known with certainty.
He has no good reason to believe this (he has to deny the activity of God in
history that is recorded in Scripture, as well as the witness of creation);
he simply believes it and then tries to justify it intellectually. He is using
his agnostic posture to deny the knowledge of God that he in fact already possesses.
Contrary to what Magee states, he is
actually very religious: he is religiously committed to God being unknown so
that he can comfort himself with the “knowledge” that he might not
have to answer to this God who is actually clearly revealed in the things that
He has made (Romans 1:19–21).
Whereas the atheist has a firm faith
commitment in the ontological/metaphysical realm, i.e., in relation to God’s
existence, the agnostic has just as strong a faith commitment in the epistemological
one, i.e., in relation to God’s knowability. Trinitarian theists need not
fear either of them, and we should not be so humble before them. Instead, we
should try to help them by showing them how foolish it is to use their minds
to reject God rather than love Him. That would seem to me to be something that
would bring glory to God.
Brian D. Nolder
Edward T. Oakes’ delightful and
insightful review of Bryan Magee’s Confessions of a Philosopher
makes me wish that Father Oakes will someday write a similar book on his own
Your philosophical readers may be interested
in two bits of anecdotal confirmation of items in the article, one about good
atheists and one about bad secondary sources.
I too had the good fortune to study under
Brand Blanshard at Yale, and I lament the passing of his species: the utterly
honest, hard–headed, rationalist atheist. Contrary to his intent, he contributed
powerfully to the development of my faith as well as my reason.
I presented a very inadequate and elementary
paper on Aquinas’ view of faith and reason, and Blanshard revealed both
his ignorance of Aquinas and his honesty when he reacted to it with great interest
and even admitted that if what I said was correct he had “perhaps been
mistaken all his life” about the impossibility of any synthesis between
religious faith and philosophical reason. He was a Hegelian “absolute idealist,”
and I still have his 185 careful comments on a 50–page epistemology paper
of mine that defended “naïve realism,” the farthest possible position
from his. His final comment: “This is a remarkably intelligent defense
of a totally unintelligent position. I give it Highest Honors. I would give
the same grade to the Charge of the Light Brigade.”
What I found most revealing in Magee’s
account was the exposé of the dominance of secondary sources in fashionable
The sad thing is not merely the irrelevance
but the arrogance; the priority of secondary literature over primary becomes
not merely a loss of data but a loss of innocence, even among undergraduates.
I once taught a Great Books course to freshmen honor students at Boston College
in which I tried to focus the class on exposing common misconceptions about
the classics by going back to the data. For example, since they all thought
the Middle Ages believed the universe was small and cozy, we read the passage
in Ptolemy’s Almagest where he concludes that the universe is unimaginably
vast, and calls the whole earth (which Eratosthenes had accurately measured
as about 8,000 miles in diameter) a needle prick compared with the universe;
and we read Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, which popularized
this idea; and even a typical sermon that used the idea to show how great God
was to have created such an enormous universe.
One other example: we read the Tawney–Weber
thesis that Calvinism contributed to capitalism and the Puritan work ethic by
its doctrine of predestination, since Calvinists were encouraged to work very
hard so that their riches, as their just reward, would be evidence that they
were the elect. So we went to the source and read Calvin himself. We found that
he sounded like many another late–medieval moralist. He quotes Jesus about
the dangers of money. The work ethic is there, but not to prove that you’re
predestined, and certainly not to get rich. Rather, it’s to keep busy so
the Devil doesn’t tempt you (and also so that you don’t become one
of those Catholic contemplatives).
Came final exam time, I tested how well
these testings of student prejudices by primary sources had taken hold. Unknown
to my students, I assigned odd numbers to all the questions about these matters,
which we had gone over in class. All even–numbered questions were about
material we had not gone over in class but which they were responsible for picking
up on their own, which I expected would be more difficult. But the class average
on the even–numbered questions was an A. The class average of the odd questions
was a D. “True or false: the Middle Ages believed the earth to be flat
and the universe to be small.” “True or false: Calvin taught that
riches assured you that you had been predestined to salvation.” Almost
the entire class blithely marked both questions “true” even though
we had exposed them in class. When I confronted them with this fact, they seemed
confused. Pressed, a few said they could not believe I had been serious—either
the test or the textual exposés in class must have been some kind of trick.
One student said, “I went to Harvard for a year and all the books there
said the Middle Ages thought the universe was small.” That’s the rubric:
Harvard trumps Ptolemy.
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
In his fine article Edward T. Oakes gives
warm praise to Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson. He then says that they had
appointments at “Harvard, Princeton, and the Universities of Toronto and
Chicago.” Alas, Chicago does not deserve to be included in that list. Although
Professor Jerome Kerwin invited Maritain to give the Walgreen lectures (subsequently
published as Man and the State) at the University, he received no appointment.
Nor did Gilson. At that time the philosophy department was content to skip,
with a few quick stops in between, from Plato and Aristotle to Descartes. It
had no sympathy with Thomism. It was left to other departments to impart matters
favorable to Catholic philosophy.
Maritain did enjoy a long stay at Princeton,
marred only by attacks launched against him and other distinguished faculty
members in the mid–fifties by Father Hugh Halton, O.P., the Catholic chaplain.
Among other charges, Fr. Halton said that Maritain had an “ability to coexist
in a conspiracy of silence with intrinsically evil teaching.” In 1957 the
board of trustees of the University withdrew its official recognition of Fr.
New York, New York
Edward T. Oakes replies:
I thank James Finn not just for correcting
my error but for the bit of Princeton history he added. My impression that Jacques
Maritain had (at least a brief) stint at Chicago came not only from reading
Man and the State but also from the enthusiasm for his work expressed
by Robert Hutchins, its president at the time, as well as by Mortimer Adler.
I know well whereof Peter Kreeft speaks,
and in fact have a rather guilty conscience about purveying some of the errors
of the Received Wisdom myself from time to time until my further reading informed
me how deceived I (and my hapless students) had been. But perhaps this is a
good time to register a demurral against a too vigorous polemic against secondary
literature. I say this not only because I have written my own quite secondary
and entirely derivative work on Hans Urs von Balthasar (when faced with his
greatness I feel no shame in “deriving” what I can), but also because
I can recall works on major thinkers that have bracingly changed my outlook
on them. I am thinking here of such works as Eric Havelock’s Preface
to Plato, Martha Nussbaum’s The Fragility of Goodness, Peter
Berkowitz’s Nietzsche: The Ethics of an Immoralist, or for that
matter Bryan Magee’s own monograph on Scho penhauer. Also, I think some
major philosophers (Locke, for example) write prose so dry and sawdust–ridden
that undergraduates might risk losing interest in philosophy altogether if primary
sources proved to be their only diet. I don’t have a solution to the problem,
except to hope that the much–touted “free marketplace of ideas”
will drive out the errors (hence my gratitude for Mr. Finn’s correction).
Unfortunately, Professor Kreeft’s anecdotes make me suspect that, on the
contrary, Gresham’s Law rules—not just in the undergraduate classroom
but, as Magee makes clear, in the faculty lounge.
Although Mr. Nolder might be reading
more into my closing peroration in praise of Bryan Magee’s book (and life)
than I had really intended, his reply raises interesting questions. If a blade
of grass can give glory to God by its sheer existence, then the same must apply
a fortiori to human beings, irrespective of their beliefs. Of course, those
humans who strive in all their actions to do the will of God give, in the language
of St. Ignatius of Loyola, “greater” glory to God. But would that
also not apply across the board? Does not a philosophy like Plato’s or
Aristotle’s give “greater” glory to God than the dreary atomism
of Democritus or Lucretius? Of course, such an encomium implies that the theist
(for whom such praise is alone meaningful) finds the work of Plato or Aristotle
more amenable to his life of belief than the alternative on offer in Greek and
What most impressed me about Magee’s
book (and life, insofar as it was revealed in the book) was his consistent honesty
in pursuing the issues of perennial philosophy as far as his own hesitant agnosticism
would take him. Nietzsche speaks in one of his more scathing passages of professors
as “smoking heads” who use scholarship as a narcotic: “The proficiency
of our finest scholars, their heedless industry, their heads smoking day and
night, their very craftsmanship—how often the real meaning of all this
lies in the desire to keep something hidden from oneself.” I praised Magee’s
life precisely because he stands as an exception to that indictment; and for
that reason I think he is much more religious, in the proper sense of the word,
than Mr. Nolder seems to allow.
It is hard to raise sufficient polemical steam over what
many may consider a nice distinction, but Peter J. Leithart’s
Useless Learning” (November 2000) embodies such
a peculiarly evangelical (i.e., skewed) approach to the
arts and learning that I could not let it pass without comment.
What Professor Leithart attempts in the
first half of his article—to demonstrate that the liberal arts are, in
essence, useless and that this essential uselessness is the very quality that
makes their study and practice worthy—he undermines in the second. Wanting
to shun the constraints of popular utilitarianism, that most Protestant of impulses
Leithart nevertheless succumbs to the very error he wishes to avoid. True, we
do not read poetry because it is economically or politically useful, but does
it follow that poetry’s worth is that it helps us “to read Psalms
and Proverbs with understanding”?
Are science and philosophy truly indulged
because they “provoke wonder at God’s creation,” the study of
music pursued “so that we can offer a sacrifice of praise,” languages
taught “so that students can gain a more accurate grasp of the Word”?
This is the utilitarian principle at its evangelical best: evaluating and explaining
learning and the arts in terms of their personal usefulness, in particular,
in terms of what they do for an individual’s personal piety. This is the
liberal arts as a morning quiet time.
There is no need to deny that the liberal
arts may have these uses—I believe they do—but such uses do not define,
as Prof. Leithart asserts, an authentic Christian education. Mark Noll once
observed that the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there isn’t any,
and it is my conviction, as one who grew up in the evangelical world, that such
a scandal exists primarily because evangelicals have defined learning and the
arts by the same utilitarian purposes outlined by Prof. Leithart. Now the scandal
will not be erased by retreating to a philosophy of art for art’s sake,
learning for the sake of learning, a uselessness sufficient unto itself. At
best this is intellectual misdirection, at worst it’s idolatry. But a true
Christian education must begin with the understanding that the objects of liberal
studies are worthy in themselves, in their unique being; worthy, not as an end
in themselves, but because they fill their proper place in God’s cosmos.
The goal of Christian education should
be to bring the student into an encounter with the incarnational truth and power
of the poem, the novel, the painting, the sonata, the scientific treatise. These
human artifacts do not just tell us about our situation, they mediate it. They
are forms of knowing and of participation and, as such, never ceasing to be
what they are and because of what they are, they carry the possibility of mediating
the Divine, sacramentally manifesting and communicating God’s presence—or
not, which also is a form of knowing.
Lee A. Steven
Peter J. Leithart replies:
If I read him right, Mr. Steven disagrees
with me less than he thinks. Nowhere in my article do I say or imply that the
liberal arts are to be evaluated by “what they do for an individual’s
personal piety.” I certainly do not believe in any sort of dichotomy of
nature and supernature, and the inspiration behind the article was less evangelical
than Augustinian (“plundering the Egyptians” and all that). My list
of the “uses” of liberal studies was not intended as exhaustive, but
was a set of gestures, clumsy ones perhaps, toward the conclusion (explicitly
stated in the article) that “liberal studies can be shaped into instruments
of worship.” This does not seem too distant from Mr. Steven’s sacramental
understanding of the liberal arts as means for “communicating God’s
In While We’re At It (December
2000), Richard John Neuhaus criticizes the Bishop of
Lafayette, Louisiana, for giving in to pressure from black
parents to remove the writings of Flannery O’Connor
from a high school reading list because of the use of the
“n” word. I don’t know any bishops, but from
what I’ve read their problems are mostly administrative,
not spiritual. As one who once made his living as an administrator,
I empathize with them.
The Bishop of Lafayette seems to have
been thrust into a situation wherein his choice was to be accused either of
being a “racist” or of “un–Christian cowardice.” The
man was responsible for a diocese, not just a school, and he did the right thing.
The Bishop could have tried explaining to the “ballistic” parents
why they were wrong to feel offended. But that’s the problem: their anger
reflected feelings, not thinking.
That the students will not be introduced
to Flannery O’Connor (or Mark Twain or Harper Lee or Stephen Benet or Joseph
Conrad, or anybody else who ever used the “n” word) is a culture war
John N. Buckley
West Des Moines, Iowa
Richard John Neuhaus asks after reading Jacques Barzun’s new book, From
Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural
Life, “Where does Jacques Barzun stand?” (“What
Jacques Barzun Believes, Maybe,” Public Square, December
2000) He finds no personal credo in Barzun’s new
book. “Answers are elusive,” says Father Neuhaus,
“for Barzun is sometimes coy, and he tries always to
describe sympathetically intellectual and cultural movements
of the most maddening diversity.”
Fr. Neuhaus wants to know what Barzun’s
“anchor” is as he sorts through the “maddening diversity”
of ideas presented in his new book. He finds a clue in Barzun’s comment
that “the current submission to the absurd is a taking within life, not
outside it.” Fr. Neuhaus wonders if Barzun’s appeal to what is “outside
life” might be a belief in some incipient form of monotheism. He hopes
Barzun will tell us if this is so “in his next book.”
Well, we need not wait. In his popular
book A Stroll With William James (1983), Barzun movingly confesses his
In my time of crisis (if that is the
right name for the devastation of a child’s richly peopled world during
the war of 1914) death superabundant and the rest of life endlessly disordered
induced at last a suicidal state and swept away all but the verbalisms of the
creed trustingly learned earlier. But having become “twice born” in
the James ian sense and gained self–acceptance “through altered powers
of action,” I found with it the germ of an affinity with a multiple, unorganized
transcendence. I am to this extent a Nietzsche–Shaw–James kind of
believer; that is, persuaded of the manifold divine. I feel myself obedient
to “spirit,” knowing that from it alone come the things that justify
life—things, in Nietzsche’s words, “transfiguring, exquisite,
mad, and divine.” Polytheism (which this is) has always been, as James
points out, “the real religion of common people”; it was also that
of the heads of the old church when they were not theologians. . . . By contrast,
the single, all–powerful God, founder and efficient executive of the universe,
has for me the thinness of abstraction. And when its faint outline is partly
filled with liturgy and prayer, it seems to me the mirror–image of monarchy,
calling for servility and praise too fulsome to be sincere, which . . . is coupled
with the unedifying morality of a stockbroker, who denies himself on earth so
as to invest in heavenly options.
It seems that Fr. Neuhaus was misled
by those lingering verbalisms from Barzun’s childhood faith that still
are around in even his latest masterpiece. Fr. Neuhaus apparently also erred
in supposing that the diversity of Barzun’s hefty new volume was maddening.
Being a polytheist, Barzun apparently found that buzzing multiplicity rather
to be salutary. So he concludes that “the mystery in things remains overwhelming
enough without extending it to what is offered as explanation,” viz., “that
divinity is ineffable Being.”
(The Rev.) Ronald F. Marshall
First Lutheran Church
of West Seattle
Pastor Marshall may be right. But that
was 1983 and maybe Mr. Barzun has given these matters better thought since then.
That is what I tentatively inferred from his latest book, but then my besetting
fault is to err on the side of charity.