R. R. Reno reports that there’s a $10,000 reward for anyone who can change Sam Harris’s mind about strict materialism (“Rewriting Nature’s Laws,” May).
I’ve read just a few sentences of Harris’s work, and all of it attempted to persuade. Of course if we are nothing but the playing out of material forces at work, then Harris is never really attempting to persuade. By his own account, it’s all just a chemical-physical reaction, and therefore his writing is qualitatively no different from mud oozing around a rock. If Harris really believed what he writes, he’d laugh at his own attempts at persuasion and admit as much. But he doesn’t. And therefore he doesn’t believe what he writes.
Does anyone know if the $10,000 is available via wire transfer, or does someone have to send me a check?
Charles J. Chaput and my own bishop, John Quinn, are just the right types of shepherds to lead the Church against militant secularism, which seeks with religious fervor to convert the culture to the faith of the faithless, a practical atheism (“We Can’t Be Silent,” May).
I suspect Chaput would agree, however, that the greatest impediment to public Christian witness is not the civil order; the greatest obstacle to cultural renewal is the demoralizing and discouraging effect of a Church that fails to speak truth to her own people. Her teaching is too often held captive by the cultural mandate to be “welcoming” (an attribute equally descriptive of hell), entertaining (an anti-intellectualism defining the “primacy of fun” in parish life), private (that enduring heresy of fideism), and profitable (a materialistic vision that defines and restrains the parish mission).
True renewal of our culture will primarily come through a revitalization of the Churcha proper “inculturation” of Vatican II directives, as John Paul II describes in Catechesi Tradendae. One can certainly see signs of this springtime of the new evangelization in the renewal of the sacrament of holy orders through the reform of Catholic seminaries, but truly if there is any hope of reclaiming our culture, it will only be by savvy and spirited priests reforming the sacraments. By this I do not mean that the sacraments, themselves, need reform, but rather the manner in which they are administered.
The sacrament of confirmation, for example, is generally given after little if any scrutiny and in such a cookbook and chronological fashion that it almost purposefully excludes the sincere desire of a mature and reasoned faith so central to the sacrament. And the administration of the sacrament of marriage is in dire need of renewal, apparent in the fact that a mere 2 percent of Catholic women have used natural family planning, up to 60 percent of engaged couples are already living together, and although Americans constitute only 5.9 percent of the world’s Catholics, they account for 60 percent of the Church’s declarations of nullity. One wonders if by refusing these sacraments to those not properly predisposed to receive them in truth, the Church might first honor Christ and thereby care for souls and fortify its cultural witness.
If there is a single means of transforming our culture, however, it is through the reform of the sacrament of Communion. The reception of the Holy Eucharist is the most misunderstood aspect of the Catholic faith, and when the likes of such public policy-makers as Nancy Pelosi make a national mockery of Communion without consequence, there is little wonder why it has become a mere symbol of self-affirmation rather than the efficacious sign of personal transformation through the Cross of Christ and the “renewal of the mind” (Rom. 12:12). Partaking in the Holy Eucharist unworthily, without examination, has produced a culture of “weak and ill” Catholics, some of whom are already spiritually “dead” (1 Cor. 11:2732).
Chaput is a true hero of our faith. I only want to add to his inspiring words that we cannot hope to speak truth to our culture until we speak truthfully to ourselves.
Charles B. Slater
Charles J. Chaput’s declaration that the United States’ formation “presumes a moral architecture shaped deeply by biblical thought” is vindicated by any study of legislative history. Yet it is also quite undeniable that the oft-quoted “separation of Church and state”an expression that is not in the Constitutionhas imposed restraints and fears on the populace that the Founding Fathers would never recognize.
Here is a brief example. When I was still on active duty, I had a request come across my desk. A petty officer, about to be advanced to the next higher rating, requested that the traditional phrase “in the year of our Lord” be stricken from his certificate. His reasoning was that such words were unconstitutional by violating the “separation of Church and state.”
The final decision would not be mine, but in my own endorsement, I commented that Article VII of the Constitution contained the same language and that the Constitution probably was not unconstitutional. I was somewhat chagrined that few others gave their opinion. Fear abounded in what I held to be just another dumb special request chit.
The world often is not only setting the agenda for the Church and the Church’s people, but also is dictating acceptable terms of conversation. It is all rather un-American.
Raymond J. Brown
Londonderry, New Hampshire
Charles J. Chaput replies:
I’m grateful to Charles Slater and Raymond Brown. They remind me that our country has too deep a well of good people for any of us to lose hope in renewing the integrity of our public discourse. But Catholics do need to recover the courage to think critically and speak truthfully. As citizens, we need to dispense with the idea that pluralism implies an obligation to ignore or accommodate serious evil in the name of social harmony. Love is a Christian virtue; tolerance, for all its pragmatic value, is not. And love requires us to publicly speak the truthrespectfully but without apologies, in our parishes and in our politics.
Having said that, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on Hebrews 13:14: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” We may fully understand what we’ve lost as a nation only after the consequences come to harvest. But there are worse things, among them confusing our home here with our real home and our real citizenship.
Charles J. Chaput
George Weigel’s account of how the European nations got ensnared in the escalations of World War I is a great read (“The Great War Revisited,” May). But I question the link between the loss of traditional culture and the tremendous lethality of that war and, by implication, later wars of the twentieth century.
I share his view that the materialism and irrationalism in nineteenth-century Europe did much to corrupt Western culture. But Weigel goes further: He makes the empirical assertion that this corrupted culture played a major role in creating the savage, unstoppable human toll of World War I.
In order to prove that proposition, one would have to show that in earlier eras, before the time of Nietzsche, Darwin, Feuerbach, and Marx, when traditional Christianity had a stronger hold on the Western mind, wars were fought more prudently and humanely. Alas, there is little evidence of that. From the extermination of the Cathars in the thirteenth century, which brought wholesale slaughter to southern France, to the Thirty Years’ War four centuries later, which devastated entire regions of Europe, Christian piety often existed side by side with nonstop brutality.
The scale of the killingthe sheer number of bodies piled up by itwas much larger in the twentieth century, but that probably has more to do with modern weaponry than with Nietzschean irrationalism.
Tenafly, New Jersey
George Weigel certainly knows more about history in general and perhaps the history of World War I than I do, but I think some of his numbers don’t look quite right.
He avers that there were “twenty million dead, military and civilian, and another twenty-one million wounded and maimed.” That ratio strikes me as highly implausible, even taking into account the lengths to which various contending powers went in order to hide the true numbers of losses from their citizenry.
Post-war scholarship across the board indicates that the military ratio of killed to wounded is between 1:2 and 1:3. Twenty million military and civilian dead would imply something between 40 and 60 million wounded and maimed. While the 60 million number seems quite impossible, 40 million wounded is almost certainly nearer the truth than the 21 million cited. Statistics from prior wars (the U.S. Civil War) and subsequent wars (World War II) suggest that a one-to-one ratio is virtually impossible, allowing for the differences in medical and transport capabilities, etc.
George Weigel’s “The Great War Revisited” was well reasoned and written. But the claim that the loss of faith in God and Christianity contributed to the carnage of World War I denies almost two thousand years of murder, torture, communal level genocide, blood libel, and economic and other kinds of violence committed against the Jews in the name of God and Christianity.
Francis Xavier Snow
Little Rock, Arkansas
George Weigel replies:
I am grateful to my correspondents for taking the trouble to write.
The World War I casualty figures referenced in my article20 million military and civilian deaths and 21 million woundedwere those cited by two highly reputable historians, David Fromkin (Europe’s Last Summer, p. 5) and Christopher Clark (The Sleepwalkers, p. xxiii).
That Europe has been the scene of bloodletting for centuries, and that some of that bloodletting claimed a religious warrant, is obviousalthough I might note that the most recent scholarship on the Thirty Years’ War suggests that the motivations in play in that horror were, contrary to the canonical Enlightenment narrative, more political than theological. Still, if we keep our focus on the typically underexplored question of why the Great War continued, it seems to me that one has to take account of the nihilism, racism, and will-to-power that warped European high culture in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, making what now appear to be acts of civilizational suicide both rational and unavoidable.
John Burgess’s article on “In-Churching Russia” (May) provides a clear and balanced analysis of the current state of the Russian Orthodox Church and its impact on society. Having faced such violent persecution at the militant atheist hands of the Communist regime, it is a blessing to see the growth of the Church in Russia, especially in an era when religion is becoming less and less relevant in the Western part of the world.
Burgess acknowledges (what I would call) the excessively close relationship between the Russian Orthodox hierarchy and the state. One needs to ask, though, if such a relationship does not have more negative consequences than Burgess politely states. Is the hierarchy losing its credibility? Is it alienating its own members who protest against the political establishment? Is the Church renouncing its prophetic mission?
While the answers might be “yes,” the Russian context requires at least a qualification, if not outright negative answers. Quite surprisingly to Western ears, recent polls show that most Russians today do not believe that it is alright to criticize the Church hierarchy or the Church in general; some even see it as a sin. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Russians remain Orthodox (after so many decades of persecution!) and the Church provides much-needed charitable relief to those in need.
John Burgess replies:
Radu Bordeianu rightly notes the problematic relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Putin regime. He and many other Western Christians might prefer a Church that taught its members to engage in public political protest. We may even wonder if the Church has failed in its responsibilities if its members passively submit to Church and state pronouncements. But to ask Russians to act like Western liberal democrats is to misjudge their social and political realities.
A Church that was once reduced to a few smoldering embers again burns with intensity. In its effort to bring Christian values into a morally confused, post-communist society, the Church has no choice but to work closely with the state, especially in Russia, where political power is so highly centralized. As anywhere else in the world, Church initiatives in public education, social ministries, historical commemoration, and establishment of new parishes require Church and state to negotiate such matters as licensing, training standards, and financing.
Especially in the current circumstances, sharp public criticism of state policies hardly seems the best strategy. Nevertheless, if the Church succeeds in expanding its social initiatives, it will inevitably help Russians think more critically about their society. The Church’s vision of sobornostdeep, intimate communion with God and among humansalways has a critical edge in a world of selfish human interests and ideologies.
The events of 1917 have made Russians wary of revolutions, but passive submission to authority will help neither the Church nor the state respond to the massive social problems that Russia faces today. The Russian Orthodox Church knows that, and many priests say it openly, even if the Patriarchate’s pronouncements are more cautious.
Ephraim Radner defames the churches of Nigeria and Rwandaand the Western Anglicans united to them (“Anglicanism on Its Knees,” May).
In Nigeria, Christians face bloody persecution by Islamist fanatics. Among the many crosses they bear is the apostasy of Western churches and the sexual degeneracy of Western society. Islamists charge that these fatally taint Christianity.
Radner ignores the plain truth that when you are between a rock and a hard place, your choices are few: An African shepherd may have the choice only of which hill to die on.
As for Rwanda, its government and churches, I remember twenty years ago the frantic letters published in the Washington Post from Tutsi trapped in Rwanda, warning of genocide to come and begging for help. The enlightened, tolerant, compassionate West did nothing. In both Catholic and Episcopal churches, I remember hearing that this was “intertribal fighting,” not genocide. There were the usual calls for dialogue and reconciliation, and appeals for money for refugees.
It turned out that many of these refugees were Hutu génocidaires, enabled by Western agencies and the U.N. to use their camps for more murderous raids. In fact, the fighting beyond Rwanda began as an effort by that nation, alone and unaided, to hunt down Hutu murderers still butchering Tutsi in neighboring Uganda, Burundi, and what is now Eastern Congo.
It seems to me that lofty Western moralists, such as Radner, at heart deeply resent the steadfast witness of African churches and the courage and effectiveness of the Rwandan army and government.
Ellicott City, Maryland
Ephraim Radner points out that “conservative North American Anglicans dare not rustle their relationship with the state-aligned Rwandan Anglican Church.” He’s absolutely right. The degree to which the Rwandan Anglican Church is complicit with the state has been illustrated by United Nations reports on retired bishops Emmanuel Kolini and John Rucyahana holding meetings for the reprehensible M23 “rebellion” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Archbishop Kolini also intervened in 2007 to prevent Paul Rusesabagina, the hero portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda, from speaking at an Anglican parish in Chicago. Rusesabagina had dared to criticize Rwanda’s dictatorial President Paul Kagame in a 2006 book.
In 2012, current Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje signed on to an “ecumenical” letter to the United Nations, blasting its (accurate) reports about Rwandan interference in the DRC. All this from a church that claims to be apolitical!
American Anglicans are ill informed about East Africa, Rwanda, and the Anglican situation there, except through hagiographical accounts penned by the victors of the Rwandan Civil War. As Roger W. Bowen wrote of the Anglican Church prior to the 1994 genocide: “Partnership in mission is the dominant theme in Anglican relationships. But one may ask in the context of Rwanda, as perhaps elsewhere in Africa, whether the mission agencies at least have so leaned over backwards to avoid the charge of colonialism that they have failed to challenge their partner Churches? Within both Rwanda and the Rwandan Church, we were aware of many of these issues and yet, as their partners, we largely failed to challenge them as equal partners and to ‘speak the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15). In Ezekiel 33 the prophet is challenged to be a watchman for the House of Israel to warn the people of God of impending danger. Both the national Church of Rwanda and its partners overseas have largely failed in this role of watchmen.”
As a lay member of an Anglican congregation and a sometime delegate to the Provincial Council of the Anglican Church in North America and to the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON 2), I looked forward to reading what I supposed would be a celebration of the coming together of Anglicans from all over the world. Unfortunately when I began reading Ephraim Radner’s “Anglicanism on Its Knees,” I found myself having an “Alice in Wonderland” moment.
At GAFCON, there was not much discussion of “gay” marriage since that seems currently of interest to the West but not so much to the vast majority of Anglicans worldwide in the pews on a given Sunday. What I did hear was concern and discussion of issues of life and death. A bishop from Nigeria asked about the proper role of a parish priest when his flock is threatened by gangs of well-armed terrorists who have killed their friends and relatives.
Moreover Radner fails to see what the Catholic Church as well as the Church of Uganda are doing to moderate the criminalization of homosexual behaviors. He makes assertions that do not reflect the actual continuing relationships within the Anglican Church, or at least that portion of the Church he designates as GAFCON.
Perhaps Radner has decided that since he resigned from the Anglican Communion Network in 2007, nothing of value could have transpired in the following years. The Network has grown into the Anglican Church in North America, which is in communion with the majority of the Anglican Communion. Radner rightly points out that the Anglicans worldwide are or should be on our knees. I welcome him joining us in that position. Anyone who wants to know more about the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans should check out the Jerusalem Statement issued by GAFCON 1 and the Nairobi Communiqué issued by GAFCON 2. Reading them will explain my “Alice in Wonderland” moment.
San Diego, California
Ephraim Radner rightly points out that much of Anglicanism in the developed West has adapted to and largely adopted the “spirit of the age.” The Church of England was always in danger of being co-opted by the statewitness Keble’s Assize Sermon, which launched the Oxford Movement in response to state interference in the structure of the Anglican Church.
The fruit of the Oxford Movement and the recovery of the principles and authority of a unified sacramental Church can now be safeguarded only in one way. Sadly, Radner failed to mention the development that offers the last, best, and now only chance of preserving what is best in Anglicanism from the endless fragmentation it is increasingly suffering.
This development is the simple yet profound action initiated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 with his apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. This formidable move in response to requests over the course of twenty years from Anglican bishops, priests, and laity offers a way for Anglicans and other Protestants as well as unconfirmed Catholics to be received into the full communion of the unified Catholic Church while retaining and developing the Anglican patrimony of liturgy, music, patristic theology, and pastoral care.
There is now really only one theologically, liturgically, and doctrinally consistent locus for Anglicanism to survive and thrive free from secular domination, state interference, and endless fragmentation. Returning to the rock from whence we were hewn, in repentance for rebellion against magisterial teaching, but with acceptance of all that is best in Anglicanism, is an option that serious Anglicans cannot dismiss.
Fr. John L. Hodgins
Ephraim Radner’s typically fertile reflectionreplete with biting commentary and plenty of pox to go around, meted out courageously across party linesfinally alights on problems of Christian unity proper, and rightly so. While specifically Anglican conundrums are shown to have broader cultural and ecclesial analogues (they are no “sideshow”), the question of what inter-Christian and inter-ecclesial communion could come to marks the final interrogation, which largely goes unanswered, save by welcoming “slow, cautious, critical” cooperation. Thus, in the end, amid diversity of circumstances and “cultures,” including ecclesial ones, we are bid to pray for our Christian neighbors.
There is little to disagree with here, but I wonder if it presses far enough beyond the pluralism at hand. Radner apparently presumes that “the Christian’s vocation to a painful ‘standing beside’ erring brethren and enemies” will take different forms within, as he says, the different “communions” of the Church. But common patterns and shared places surely must emerge as well if, in the parlance of Vatican II, all baptized Christians share a single, imperfect communion as brothers and sisters in Christ. In this case, we all will want to see what is asked of us when, for instance, the Anglican Communion reaches its “existential crossroads,” where a “verdict” will finally be pronounced, after thirteen long years.
The AnglicanRoman Catholic Consultation in the U.S. has just published a statement on “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment” that urges Episcopalians and Roman Catholics to enter “into each other’s struggles, accepting them as our own, that we may bear witness to our unity in Christ.” And this led the group (on which I served) to recall that little-discussed bit from 1 Corinthians 12 where St. Paul insists that greater honor be given to “the inferior member.” If we Anglicans especially are now being driven to our knees, and I agree with Radner that we are, perhaps our siblings in Christ would wish to join us there, the better to gather all the “proper gifts” of the Church into the fullness of unity, so that nothing may be lost.
Ephraim Radner replies:
The purpose of my essay was to highlight some of the moral pressures and dilemmas that Anglicans around the world now face. These have arisen in the wake of the tremendous turmoil brought on by especially Western cultural transformations over how to understand and enact our sexual lives. This turmoil has, in turn, drawn in churches and cultures from outside the West. Anglicans are no different from other Christians in having to make serious choices in the face of these dynamics. My argument was that a failure to take these choices seriously will leadand has already ledotherwise faithful people into moral commitments and alliances that are simply wrong. My remarks about Anglicanism today, then, represented both a case study for all Christians, as well as a particular plea for prayer on all our behalf.
I am disappointed and surprised that some readers chose to avoid the issues I raised, and thereby gave testimony to my argument about a growing moral obtuseness in our midst. There is absolutely nothing that can justify what happened in Rwanda in 1994neither events before that time nor events subsequent to them. But there is nothing, morally or theologically, to justify what has happened in the Eastern Congo in the past twenty years, either. Lilice Wickman seems to confuse these matters. The Rwandan army, whatever its virtues past or present, has been and is involved in unconscionable activities, even atrocities. There is no “rock and a hard place” set of choices here for Christians, nor is there any in Nigeria and Uganda on the front of basic human rights that Christians themselves helped define and defend: We are called to speak the truth in love, to oppose what is wrong, and to do so whether or not it is culturally comfortable or politically secure. Period. To start calculating the relative moral weights of political partners and worrying about misperceived moral equivalencies, while inevitable, cannot form the basis of evangelical witness and ecclesial policy.
Surely the Church has learned this clearly over the past centuries, whatever the temptations. It is hard to believe that Christians are willing to claim some great moral victory in having tepidly expressed discomfort with executing homosexuals (Uganda), while doing nothing to publicly oppose their long-term incarceration. However, it is not a matter of tabulating comparative shame: There is more than enough to go around in a world where Christiansin this specific case, Anglicanshave made some moral concerns the basis for ignoring others of comparable evangelical urgency.
Emery Gerhardt imagines, furthermore, that conservative American Anglicans who have left the Episcopal Church have somehow progressed beyond having to debate these moral subtleties, and are now happily engaged in the real business of the Church. I suggest he look at the fine work of Joel Wilhelm, who has been chronicling some troubling immoral complicities that deeply compromise Gerhardt’s version of Anglicanism come of age. Wilhelm’s letter rightly emphasizes how mutual accountability is one of the great casualties of our politicized Church. And this is a loss that injures both conservatives and liberals.
But just because of this, what is at stake also goes beyond Anglicanism, as I tried to suggest. Fr. John Hodgins has nothing to apologize for in joining the Roman Catholic Church, and I for one certainly do not dismiss such a decision on the part of some Anglicans. I will leave aside whether or not this is a particularly helpful Anglican optionpersonally, I think it has little to do with “preserving what is best” in Anglicanism, nor should it. More important, the choice to be a part of the Roman Catholic Church does nothing to solve the underlying dilemma of corrupting partnerships into which the pressures of, say, secularization often push Christians. I hope I made that clear.
On this score, Christopher Wells is more attuned to my concerns, when he notes that the U.S. AnglicanRoman Catholic Consultation’s recent statement on “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment” properly called on each Church to “share” in the moral struggles of the other, rather than to use them as clubs with which to beat the other. One reason for such an exhortation is that Catholics and Anglicans both, each in their own way, have been and remain prone to alignments of interest with, frankly, evil powers. At this time, at least, I believe that we strengthen our resistance in part through common accountabilities to which we can and must hold each other in our imperfect unity and witness. This may prove a better pedagogy for our growth in unity than other paths.
In any case, I am sorry that some have taken my request for prayer on behalf of Anglicansand indirectly, thus, for all of usas a recruitment tool, a strategy that a few apologists for the Anglican Ordinariate seem to have adopted on the web. As Wells indicates, this strategy may well miss a divine opportunity.
Raymond Brown, the Scripture scholar, once wrote that Tradition was the divinely guided reflection of the Christian community on the mystery of Jesus. This seems quite a good way of looking at it. I have always found it hard to accept that the Scriptures can be understood without the Church’s Tradition. It is by Tradition that we accept Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and do not accept the gospels of Thomas or Peter.
Perhaps Carl Trueman’s difficulty (“Traditional Troubles,” May) is that he looks at the Church as “institution.” No doubt the Church has its institutional side, but that is hardly all of it. The Church is also the Body of Christ enjoying his abiding presence through the ages, as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit who continues to remind us of all Jesus did and taught, as Jesus himself promised.
In The Problem of God, John Courtney Murray wrote that the ecumenical question comes down to “what do you think of Nicea?” Is it possible for the bishops to compose a creed and demand we accept their formulation? Murray pointed out that there were three schools of thought then. The archaists maintained only Scripture could be obligatory; the liberals held that nothing much mattered when it came to doctrine. And the centriststhe Catholicssaid the bishops could compose a binding creed to decide what the Church believed was obligatory.
Was it Cardinal Dulles who pointed out that Catholics believe the Word became flesh, while Protestants seem to believe the Word became word? Institutions and creeds may belong to the flesh. But the Word did become flesh and sent out disciples to teach before any of them wrote anything.
Fr. Anthony Di Russo
Carl R. Trueman replies:
Fr. Anthony Di Russo’s thoughtful response to my review of Thomas Guarino’s study of Vincent of Lérins brings up issues not susceptible to brief answers. However, I do wish to clarify a couple confusions.
First, as a Presbyterian, I see no problem in the Church’s overseers composing a creed or confession and setting it forth as authoritative. The question is: What is the basis of their authority to do so? That is where the difference between Catholics and Protestants will emerge, given the strictly ministerial authority the latter apply to the office of overseer.
Second, the characterization of Protestants as regarding the Church as primarily institution is too simplistic. Our confessions give no support to such characterization, nor do our best theologians. Thus, Herman Bavinck, the great Dutch Reformed theologian, spends considerable time on the Church both as institution and as organism, addressing the kind of concerns Di Russo raises.
I might add that I too have a clear understanding of the Church as the body of Christ. I know it to be so because Paul teaches this doctrine in his New Testament letters. In short, it is precisely because of my commitment to Scripture that I know the Church to have that incarnational dimension. And that, of course, raises the very questions which underlie the differences between Protestants and Catholics and which are indeed central to Guarino’s fine monograph.