There are a few things about Catholicism that Charlotte Allen and many conservative Catholics just don’t get.
Basically, it is that you do not always have to be talking about Catholic orthodoxy to be presenting a “Catholic” perspective.
Magazines like First Things and many of their lesser web-based cousins are fixated on “beliefs” to the point of boredom, the repetition grows so frequent.
I am reminded of the series Commonweal ran on Catholic writers a few years back. Writers like Thomas Keneally and Jon Hassler come most quickly to mind; probably because they are among my favourite. Most of their stories either never mention Catholicism or it plays a minor roll in the background. Even such up-front Catholic writers as Flannery O’Connor, use Catholicism as a background, as in her famous “A Good Man is Hard to Find”.
It’s a perspective, I suspect Allen doesn’t comprehend about “Commonweal Catholics”.
I am bothered by a (perhaps) related issue. It seems that from time to time we adapt to the “world’s” rules of debate and fail to treat each other with the compassion called for by the gospel we are trying to follow.
I usually enjoy C. Allen, and I’m not entirely unsympathetic to some of the things she says. But her post is one we probably could’ve done without. I fail to see what it contributes to a healthy conversation among those who proclaim Jesus as Lord.
A friend had previouslt e-mailed me a column by Ms. Alllen. I wanted to know her quals so I googled up her name and got nothing. So I went to Beliefnet(sic) and under her heading the first entry was “favorite bible verses of Anne Colter.”
Obviously Ms. Allen brings the highest degree of objectivity to her writing.
Why did we need this thread?
Awh mlj & rn:
If you had written a book and someone had written a good-bad-mixed review of it would you not have posted a comment on your blog?
I don’t want to speak for Grant but I suspect he was surprised by the presence of the piece on First Things and just wanted to share it. I mean won’t you if you were an associate editor at Commonweal….(and no need for a smart retort on that fantasy mlj).
I always snicker when I read things similar to what C. Allen wrote in Fist Things …. oops, First Things.
The ultramontanish crowd is constantly chirping that the lay vocation is IN the world and let the clerisy ru(i)n the church.
But, what is her complaint? .. that Commonweal, a lay-run and focused publication, isn’t overtly Catholic, i.e., churchy, enough!
John Borst abofe has stated the FT crowd’s problem succinctly.
Give it a break, Ms. Charlotte.
I don’t have a problem with linking to Ms Allen. Her piece is a good enough discussion starter. I was drawn to two things: her perception of ho-hum content and the supposed lack of explicit “Catholic” content.
Agreement with the other commenters that the fixation on “orthodoxy” on FT and in other places (especially blogs) is wearisome. I find other people’s opinions interesting, even if they don’t align with my ideology. But after a while, I hope some people would move on. There’s a certain PC-speak within conservative circles: if you don’t have the right things to say on Terri Schiavo, or the RTL movement, or the liturgy, you’re persona non grata.
Which leads to the second point. While I think there are Catholics (of various stripes) who get so caught up in ideology or perhaps narcissism on their personal soapboxes, the real place i want to see if a person’s Catholic is not in words, but in actions. Examples: Are these people good employers, faithful family people, etc.? In other words, do they walk the talk?
Applying neoconPC-speak to a judgment of Commonweal Catholics seems a bit thin to me.
Of course, I agree with much of what you say. I particularly agree with your insight re: neoconPC-speak…and its a great “word”.
One other point that crossed my mind since writing the first post:
Allen for all intents & purposes wrote a review of Commonweal. However, it is one thing to review a book on its own merits; however, IMO a review of a magazine should really include a number of successive issues so that a more complete picture of its true nature can emerge. Obviously, this is a weakness in Allen’s discussion of Commonweal.
While Ms. Allen’s Latin may be good, her skills at basic textual interpretation are rather weaker.
She claims that in my recent column, I “confidently predicted” the Church would change some of its doctrines.
But where? I made no predictions about which doctrines, if any, the Church would change. I did, however, say that we had not come to terms with the changes that have already been made. (Past tense). Some Catholics don’t like to talk about that fact. on matters such as slavery, religious liberty, etc. They ignore them. They pretend they didn’t happen. They think it’s “dangerous” to talk about them. They make you say something you didn’t say, so they can dismiss you. You’re a “Liberal” –and dismissable
My column, in essence, summarized John Noonan’s argument in A Church that Can and Cannot Change. It identified challenges that arise from the book. I must say that I wonder: Does Allen, who claims to have gotten along well with him dismiss his book as easily?
Charlotte Allen indicated earlier on this blog that she enjoyed translating Neo-Latin epitaphs. A regular feature, say, Neo-Latin Epitaph of the week might win her over. Why not give it a try?
Hey, Charlotte, you go girl. I love your stuff and I love the stuff from this site. Keep it going, sorry that it won’t be free after a while. See you at Amy’s place.
Paul Bauman really caused all this by not publishing Allen’s book review. Don’t laugh folks. This is serious.
Michael Novak would have been a different person if Hans Kung accepted him at Tubingen or at least one university would have accepted him for a doctorate.
Whatever one may say of Marx, he was right when he said that a wo/man’s philosophy is determined by his economics.
What marvels we can work if we give Weigel, Novak, and Neuhaus their doctorates.
Failure to assuage egos has started many a conflagration.
Two things. First, I guess we Commonwealers should feel charmed to be among the Hip and Sophisticated. It’s encouraging that the words liberal, Volvo-driving, and latte-sipping didn’t appear.
Second, I don’t see where a contributor to First Things gets off ridiculing Commonweal for “warmed-over versions of the views of the secular media.” On economic and political matters, FT could be the religion supplement to the Wall Street Journal,or the Weekly Standard. Of course, theWSJ and the WS could be sacred media to Allen.
>>Whatever one may say of Marx, he was right when he said that a wo/man’s philosophy is determined by his economics.<<
Bill, how are your views determined (your word) by your economic self-interest? How are Commonweal’s? Or can we agree that this isn’t the most productive line of inquiry?
BTW, Novak left more than one doctoral program. Philosophy at Harvard was one; the other escapes me. Richard John Neuhaus, on the other hand, doesn’t even have a high school diploma. I hope you were sitting down when you read that.
Quite productive I would insist. The truth is that you really begin to know people when you have a money transaction with them. Only God is good, remember.
With reference to Novak and Neuhaus you prove my point profusely.
Nice of you, I guess, to protect Weigel.
I second Bil’s point, even though I’d caution that it’s erroneous to reduce Marxism to the study of “economic self-interest.” (Marxists pay attention to class, which is a different thing. Interpreting someone’s views strictly in terms of economics is more populist than Marxist.). Novak’s work, from the 1960s to the present, is full of evidence to indicate that he’s resentful of having been rejected by the intellectual circles he now vilifies. The whole “New Class” theory he advances is a way in which he drapes this sense of exclusion in intellectual garb.
I won’t speculate on whether or not such resentment explains Allen’s snitty remarks.
Charlotte Allen’s approach puts me in mind of Pope’s comment on a rival who taught his own little coterie all too well—
“To damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.”
There was a glint of steel when she spoke of Bauman and Kaveny, however. Cathy Kaveny quite rightly responded to the unfair criticism of her piece. It would be interesting to see what Allen might have to say about that.
I have a hard time keeping all the charges straight.
Bill: Is it that they are greedy or dumb?
Eugene: Is it that they are resentful outsiders or arrogant insiders?
The Greek chorus: Is it that they’re too Catholic or not Catholic enough?
Or is their peculiar, perverse genius that they are all these things at once? Teach me.
I don’t know about Bill or the Greek chorus, but let me take a shot at “teaching” MLJ.
I certainly don’t think the neo-cons, or theo-cons, or FT folks, however one characterizes them, are dumb. Are they greedy? I can’t look into their souls. I would think that, as a priest, Neuhaus would swear off riches. Weigel certainly made a mint off his JP II bio, but I don’t know if that’s a result of his own avarice or of the JP II personality cult. His ill-considered (and apparently rebuffed) attempts to ingratiate himself with Pope Benedict would indicate a love of being close to power, not love for money. I do think that Novak’s passage to the right in the 1970s had something to do with material self-interest, but I wouldn’t swear to that.
There’s no contradiction in being a resentful outsider and an arrogant insider — it all depends on the group(s) in terms of which one is defining oneself. In Novak’s case (maybe in Neuhaus’ and Weigel’s), the resentment stems from not being included in the intellectual circles in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s, or in the university culture of today. The arrogance stems from being insiders in the DC-obsessed and corporate-funded intellectual world of American conservatism, the think-tank-government complex of the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, etc.
Whether they’re “too Catholic” or “not Catholic enough” is an enormous and complex theological question. FT has been admirable in its aversion to many theological fashions, but it’s been much less than admirable in its positions on war and economics.
A propos Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel, et al. look at the power they wield, Ph.D. or institutional association notwithstanding:
The article says that they are “Warming the heart of Goebbels.”
Here is the quotation from the article:
In a direct challenge to the basic patriotism of the bishops that would warm the heart of Joseph Goebbels, IRD declares:
No doubt, if transported back in history, these bishops likewise would have impartially “lamented” the “continued warfare” between Allied and German forces in Normandy in 1944, while blaming the plight of millions of victims of fascist aggression on the United States (Tooley, 2005b).
This malicious accusation, typical of IRD, is made despite the fact that among the bishops are decorated World War II and Korean Era combat veterans.
The bishops here are Protestant bishops considered too liberal by IRD. Do you think the characterization to be over the top? Or, isthe IRD fascist as the article suggests?
You ask: The Greek chorus: Is it that they’re too Catholic or not Catholic enough?
That in my opinion is a disgusting question.
It implies that there is such a thing as the perfect or perhaps an ideal Catholic. It is at the heart of what ails the IRD folk about Catholics who do not have their particular view of Catholicism.
One of the things that Martin Regg Cohn in an Aug. 13, 06 article “A Surfeit of Martyrs” (Toronto Star) has discovered in his experience as a reporter is “Fundamentalism, like revolution, eats its own children. ” He goes on “I marvelled at the willingness of so many in the Islamic world to besmirch one another as apostles, infidels, or inferior Muslims.
Equally, ultra-orthodox Jews excelled at self-hatred when vilifying their fellow Jews; Hindus excoriated their brethren of lesser castes or questionable orthodoxy; and Buddhists spouted insults at believers from rival sects.”
Your question is really in that vain: Catholics eating Catholics and is what scares me about trends within The Church and as Andrew Weaver has written about between “neocon Catholics and mainline Protestants”
>>It is at the heart of what ails the IRD folk about Catholics who do not have their particular view of Catholicism.<<
The IRD is a Protestant organization.
Not at all. It is a conservative Catholic group founded by Neuhaus. One of their purposes is to disrupt and divide mainstream Protestant churches. They believe that these churches have had too much influence in shaping the moral and social agenda in this country and they would like that role now to fall to them as neocon Catholics.
Why is my vision going blurry? What for example is an organization which promotes energy conservation but is sponsored by an oil conglomerate? What is the nature of a university research project to create a cancer cure that is underwritten and controlled by a big pharma firm? What is the status of a magazine/journal which purports to be non-aligned but is funded by a right-wing think-tank?
So I guess, both mlj & Alan are to some extent correct. We each see what we want to see and block out the other.
In that sense Charlotte Allen, has done the same with one issue of Commonweal. For her, the magazine in her opinion is “not Catholic enough.” Peter Nixon raises an important question in the next thread in that regard but the potential for Catholic bashing Catholic rather than talking is rising and hardening as the 21st century progresses.
Anyone just has to follow the one note comments of posters to Catholic World News articles/Diogenes blogging to see the potential for future conflict. Neuhaus and company, appear to accept this potential for division as inevitable, maybe even necessary for the purification of their view of Catholicism.
I’m afraid dismissing IRD as “Protestant” just won’t do.
IRD isn’t a “conservative Catholic group” any more than it is a Jewish group (it has several Jews on the board of advisors).
Let’s agree, then, that the IRD is a far-right organization embracing conservatives of all faiths. What I found illuminating and disturbing in the Media Transparency piece was not the denominational breadth but some of the individuals who fund it. Howard Ahmanson, for instance, was a student of R. J. Rushdoony, that Christian Reconstructionist nutball who favored racial segregation, idealized the antebellum South, denied the Holocaust, and argued for the institution of Mosaic law. Also on the list of donors was the Coors family, once proud supporters of apartheid in South Africa. (Joseph Coors once told a gathering of African-American and Hispanic businessmen that slavery had been a good thing for the slaves. Their response was unrecorded.)
If the editors of Commonweal or of any other “lefty” religious periodical were to sit on boards of organizations funded by, say, Fidel Castro, FT would be among the first to howl in outrage. For all their interest in purity and chastity, folks like Neuhuas don’t seem to mind who they climb into bed with, politically speaking.
Let’s be careful about overemphasizing formal credentials. To illustrate, Alasdair MacIntyre does not have a doctorate but surely he is no lightweight. I am sure many could come up with examples going the other way.
Charlotte Allen writes: “Not a single one of the five books under review deals with Christianity.”
But the subject of one of these reviews is Legends of Modernity by Czeslaw Milosz. As the reviewer states, throughout his life Milosz explored classic Catholic themes. I believe Maritain was profoundly influential for Milosz as was Dante. The review could reside comfortably within the pages of First Things.
Timothy is right warning not to overemphasize credentials. I surfaced the subject to indicate how in Novak, Weigel and Neuhaus, an inferiority driven agenda may be occuring.
In the final analysis true humility is our ticket to the promised land and discipleship in Christ.