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Canadian Conservatives?

Raymond J. de Souza’s “Unsettling Canada” (October 2004) contains solid hints about why social conservatives continue to forge ill-advised alliances with political conservatives. However, in noting the weakened position of social conservatives within Canada’s Liberal Party, Father de Souza does not fully say why there exist identical tensions within the Conservative Party”tensions that would lead to virtually identical setbacks if the Conservative Party were to assume power in the future. Just consider the record of almost every recent conservative government in Canada, whether provincial or federal.

For social conservatives to build alliances with political conservatives they must bargain away long-term social objectives in favor of perceived short-term political opportunities. Time and again, politically conservative power-brokers have ignored, defeated, or buried social conservative views, except during the odd election campaign. In the end, what is the real difference between the avowedly secularist liberal left and the effectively secularist right? Given the genuinely isolated position of social conservatives, it is not inconceivable that a better political strategy would be to work with the left instead of the right.

One reason for suggesting this strategy is purely pragmatic. As Fr. de Souza notes, most new immigrants to Canada are predisposed to social conservative views, yet they tend not to vote for conservatives. Perhaps this is because these immigrants are turned off by a platform that favors U.S. foreign policy, economic privatization, looser environmental controls, and the erosion of publicly available health care. These are the policy options espoused by political conservatives in Canada.

If social conservatives decamp permanently in the Canadian Conservative Party, I fear that they will end up being taken for granted and ultimately marginalized from public discussions altogether. Social conservative views need to be voiced in other political parties, where other positions of ostensibly equal importance to social conservatives are already articulated and defended.

Paul Allen
Department of Theological Studies
Concordia University
Montreal, Quebec

I appreciated Raymond J. de Souza’s thoughtful article reminding Canadians that the new Conservative Party must espouse conservative views. Now is not the time for so-called compromise on divisive issues such as the military, abortion, and same-sex marriage; it is time for leadership that will attract individuals disappointed with the Liberal Party and yet unsure where to turn, ideologically speaking. Although this turning will possibly take a long time and several elections could be lost as rational debate is drowned out by shouts of “bigotry” and “extremism,” the time is ripe for change. Certainly the quick turnaround of Ontario under former Premier Mike Harris is reason for hope and optimism on a national scale.

While Father de Souza lacked the space to discuss Quebec, it is no secret that the success of any future government depends on what happens in this troubled province. Should Québécois move beyond their exclusive support for the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois, Canada might become capable of reasserting its rural, conservative identity, which is now concealed by the influence of the left-of-center media, liberal judicial rulings, and regional voting. Nothing less than Canadian identity is at stake.

Aaron Perry
Asbury Theological Seminary
Wilmore, Kentucky

Raymond J. de Souza replies:

Both correspondents underscore the difficult situation in which social conservatives find themselves in Canada. Mr. Perry is right to highlight that Quebec’s recent voting patterns pose a particular challenge to any sort of conservative agenda”social or otherwise. But Quebec is not a mirror of the rest of the country”indeed, on most of the cultural and social issues, Quebec is far more aggressively secular and liberal than the other provinces.

Dr. Allen is correct that social conservatives should be at home in political parties of the left as well as the right; there ought to be a home for those who are pro-life and pro-family, and who support a robust welfare state. Alas, in Canada as in the United States, the parties of the left have been so captured by an extreme secular liberalism that it is difficult to see how Dr. Allen’s hopes could be fulfilled. In the 2004 election campaign, Prime Minister Paul Martin went so far as to say that he would not permit any Liberal Members of Parliament to introduce a bill that would circumscribe the abortion license in any way. It is unlikely that a Prime Minister even has that power, but it surely indicates that the Liberal Party, while it might tolerate a few pro-life, pro-family MPs, is officially hostile to their agenda. The Conservative Party is, on this score, at least open to the very discussion that Dr. Allen advocates. It is not obvious that the social conservatives will win that argument, and, as he correctly notes, Conservative governments in Canada have not notably advanced a socially conservative agenda. Nevertheless, social conservatives are active in the Conservative Party not because that is an ideal place to be, but because it is just about the only place that will have them.

Evangelical Resources

Ten years after his indictment of evangelical intellectual life, Mark Noll sounds a more hopeful note in “The Evangelical Mind Today” (October 2004). Since hope is one of the Christian virtues, I am reluctant to dispute his optimism. Yet I find his explanation of evangelicalism’s theological resources to be troubling.

Most of the serious evangelical undergraduates I have met over the last several years are drawn to Roman Catholicism, which they find to be the most attractive outlet for their desire to unite faith and learning. There are several reasons for this, among them that Roman Catholicism possesses a tradition of learning and a body of teaching that has immediate appeal to students starving for a Christian faith that has intellectual depth and rigor.

This may not be a problem for Professor Noll, who was one of the signers of “Evangelicals and Ca-tholics Together.” My own conviction is that historic Protestantism has its own theological and liturgical resources that, sadly, contemporary evangelicals have ignored and in some cases repudiated. We are thus left with the question that Prof. Noll’s book originally raised and that remains unanswered today: Will evangelicals who become intellectually serious remain evangelical once they awaken from their pietistic slumbers? If not, is the “evangelical mind” really a possibility”or is it, instead, an oxymoron?

Darryl G. Hart
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mark Noll replies:

Darryl G. Hart is a careful reader, so he will have noted that the hope expressed in my article was for “Christian thinking by evangelicals” rather than for an “evangelical mind” as such. I concur with much of the critique that Professor Hart has delivered against contemporary evangelicalism in his recent books. Yet considered soberly, the only realistic hope for faithful Christian learning in the contemporary Western world lies with Catholic communities, evangelical communities, or (at best) some combination of the two. (It is, of course, not Christian to abandon hope altogether.) Catholicism, despite all its conflicts and confusions, retains considerable resources for nourishing intellectual life. Evangelicals, despite all of our excesses and inadequacies, remain open to at least some positive theological influences from the confessional Protestant past. To imagine that a vigorous classical Protestantism, with well-constructed academic institutions and well-balanced Christian cultural instincts, could repudiate modern evangelicalism and thereby regain intellectual depth, gravity, and authority is to indulge in a romantic fantasy.

Kierkegaard’s Christianity

In “Kierkegaard for Grownups” (October 2004), Richard John Neuhaus adds himself to a long list of Catholic scholars who have looked favorably on Søren Kierkegaard, Denmark’s great practitioner of Christo-Socratic existentialism. In 1957, Cornelio Fabro’s roster of “Catholic scholars who have understood the positive aspects of K’s work” included: Theodor Häcker, Romano Guardini, Erich Pryzwara, F. J. Billeskov-Jansen, Yves Congar, Jerome Hamer, and Regis Jolivet. An updated roster would surely have to include Bernard Lonergan, Hans Urs von Balthasar, James Collins, Walker Percy, Louis Dupré, and, now, Father Neuhaus.

What makes Neuhaus’ discussion unique is his use of Kierkegaard’s concept of the “contemporaneity” of Christ to describe the contemporaneity of Christ’s Church. Cornelio Fabro’s complementary interpretation of Kierkegaard is helpful here. Like Fr. Neuhaus, Fabro identifies “the Catholic actuality” with Kierkegaard’s (developed) concept of the dialectic of faith. He does so by drawing our attention to the fact that in 1850 Kierkegaard “discovered Hugh of St. Victor’s formula on the relations between reason and faith, a formula which had inspired the best Scholastics, especially St. Thomas.” Kierkegaard himself wrote: “A true sentence of Hugh of St. Victor: ‘In things which are above reason, faith is not really supported by reason, because reason cannot grasp what faith believes; but there is also something here as a result of which reason is determined, or which determines reason to honor faith which it cannot perfectly understand.’” Kierkegaard then added: “That is what I explained . . . for instance . . . in the Concluding Postscript [sic] . . . .”

Given Kierkegaard’s acceptance of Hugh’s formula as consistent with his Concluding Unscientific Postscript ”and given the fact that Hugh’s formula has always been a touchstone of the Catholic school”we can now see how Catholic Christianity can be found (in Neuhaus’ words) “on the far side of Kierkegaard” by “long and hard wrestling with Kierkegaard.” As Fabro notes, Kierkegaard’s concept of faith “constitutes, essentially, a return to the authentic Christian position”even, if you will, a return to the Catholic and Thomistic position, at least on some points.”

John F. Maguire
Natural Law Jurisprudence Center
Berkeley, California

Richard John Neuhaus’ essay brought to mind Francis Schaeffer’s synopsis of Western philosophy, in which he puts Kierkegaard at the pivot point. With Kierkegaard, he said, Western philosophy falls below the “line of despair. This does not mean that philosophers sit and weep, though many of them do. It means that they have given up hope of constructing a unified field of knowledge. There is not a chair of philosophy of any importance in the world today who still believes that it can be done. I call them anti-philosophers.” Modern theology is, likewise, existential philosophy expressed in theological language. Schaeffer called it anti-theology.

We can argue about whether Kierkegaard himself falls below the line of despair. We can debate whether he was a Christian. Some of his writings are still read in some churches as Christian devotionals. But he has rejected the foundation of Christian faith. He rejects the idea that Christianity is based upon objective truth”a truth that can be subjected to verification or falsification by ordinary methods of investigation. Kierkegaard accepts the conclusion of Kant, that man cannot know transcendent truth by reason and experience. He properly rejects Hegel’s attempt to surmount Kant’s impasse. Then he asks us to take an irrational leap of faith. As Schaeffer pointed out, Kierkegaard “asks us to believe, against all the evidence of reason and experience, that God is good.”

DuPree Moore
Mineral Bluff, Georgia

RJN replies:

I thank John F. Maguire for his interesting addendum. As for Francis Schaeffer, his contributions to evangelical Protestant thought are significant, but he painted with a very broad and eccentric philosophical brush. I suppose some might be inclined to, but nobody should, debate whether or not Kierkegaard was a Christian. He was.

Episcopal Expectations

In “Bishops at a Turning Point” (Public Square, October 2004), Richard John Neuhaus offers a lucid and, as he might say, winsomely optimistic analysis of the American bishops’ assembly in Denver last June. If the bishops, prodded by some of the younger and more tough-minded members of the hierarchy, are in fact learning how to work together more effectively to meet the real needs of the Church, it is good news indeed.

There is, however, an element of Father Neuhaus’ prescription that I find deeply troubling. I mean the argument that the bishops must meet behind closed doors, without the unwelcome attention of the press, in order to be sufficiently at ease to do their work.

Speaking to bishops from Pennsylvania and New Jersey on their recent ad limina visit to the Holy See, Pope John Paul II said the following: “Within a sound ecclesiology of Communion, a commitment to creating better structures of participation, consultation, and shared responsibility should not be misunderstood as a concession to a secular ‘democratic’ model of governance, but an intrinsic requirement of the exercise of episcopal authority and a necessary means of strengthening that authority.”

Accountability in ecclesial governance is a necessary part of the vision sketched out by the Pope, and transparency in regard to the process of decision-making as well as its product is a necessary part of accountability.

I do not suggest that the bishops must open all parts of all their meetings to the media to achieve this result. Occasional assemblies entirely in executive session, like the one in Denver, are undoubtedly helpful in certain circumstances. Similarly, the bishops might wish to experiment more freely with closed-door regional assemblies than they have done up to now. No doubt there are other possibilities. The aim should be to find a workable mix of meeting formats that involve both open and closed doors. By contrast, a retreat into a uniform policy of secrecy would be a step backward, with disastrous long-term results.

One further point. Fr. Neuhaus makes a common mistake in separating the episcopal conference from its “supporting institution,” the bishops conference. In fact, the episcopal conference is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This entity has a staff, of course, and the relationship of bishops to staff is a legitimate topic for inquiry and, at times, criticism. Nevertheless, de facto and de jure the American bishops are the USCCB.

Russell Shaw
Washington, D.C.

The upbeat tone and conclusions of Richard John Neuhaus’ commentary came as a surprise, especially after his many gloomy statements over the past two years.

Father Neuhaus’ positive evaluation of the bishops seems to be based to a large extent on their own accounts of their closed June meeting. Fr. Neuhaus writes that “there was real discussion and deliberation . . . the bishops spoke out as bishops, as shepherds and teachers of the Church, and not as managers.” I hope they will soon speak out as shepherds and teachers to their flocks, in public, and not just to each other in private.

Fr. Neuhaus also refers to “JPII bishops.” But the Pope has been appointing bishops for twenty-six years now. I believe the majority of bishops in the world are JPII bishops. Yet Fr. Neuhaus highlights fourteen of them for praise. This is admittedly more than a handful, but out of 281 active bishops it is not much more. These would be the same bishops who, for example, rendered Ex Corde Ecclesiae inoperative.

Lastly, Fr. Neuhaus welcomes the June statement “Catholics in Political Life” because it “acknowledges the worries of the timid while affirming” a stronger course of action. But isn’t this just another way of saying that it was a statement with enough ambiguity to allow all of the bishops to back it, no matter what their position? Our expectations for the successors to the Apostles seem to have sunk pretty low.

Allan SmileyCold Spring,

From the point of view of the unborn child, I see no evidence that the bishops are at a turning point, as Richard John Neuhaus suggests. Nothing Father Neuhaus writes changes the fact that the bishops as a group failed to confront the continued defiance of pro-choice Catholic politicians. These politicians continue to support abortion and receive Communion, thereby inspiring grave scandal in the Church. It’s business as usual for the bishops. I wonder if the politicians themselves consider the bishops’ statement to be assertive? It certainly doesn’t seem to have changed anyone’s behavior.

John KleinhenzCorvallis,

RJN replies:

I stand in admiration of Russell Shaw’s many contributions to Catholic thought and practice over the years, and he is right to emphasize the importance of accountability. Yet I wonder if language about “closed doors,” “transparency,” and “secrecy” is appropriate to the charism and tasks of bishops in the same way that that language is used with respect to political leaders. The National Review Board, for instance, emphasizes the importance of “fraternal correction.” That is simply not going to happen in the presence of the media. There is a distinction to be made between meetings that are fraternal and informal, on the one hand, and secretive and unaccountable, on the other. In addition, I believe individual bishops, as teachers of their local churches, should be more publicly forthcoming and less inhibited by a false “collegiality” in differing from other bishops when necessary. But Mr. Shaw and I are agreed that this is a period of promising experimentation in the exercise of episcopal leadership. Messrs. Smiley and Kleinhenz apparently begin with very low expectations indeed. As for the fourteen who were regularly mentioned to me, they were named as emerging leaders of the conference. Leaders in any institution are always in the minority. I should add that readers, including bishops, have urged upon me at least fourteen other candidates for the list, which I again emphasize is not my list but names proposed by members of the conference.

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