Managing the dynamo; abortion; anti-Semitism on the prairie

Questionable Accommodations

David O’Brien laments that Andrew Bacevich “has unfortunately accepted from theologian Michael Baxter a version of the American Catholic story that emphasizes ‘accommodation’ to secular America” (Letters, January 13). If this is true, I’m flattered, for I find Bacevich’s assessment of the challenges of modernity to be perceptive, penetrating, and (with the help of Henry Adams) rhetorically powerful. As he notes, the dynamo is everywhere now, on our TVs and computers, in our living rooms and bedrooms, in our purses and pockets, making it difficult, if not impossible, to honor the Virgin and abide by the moral and intellectual vision she represents.

O’Brien is more optimistic. If I understand him correctly, he does not deny that U.S. society faces serious challenges, but for him this makes it more urgent for Catholics to move into the mainstream and transform the life of the nation. This was the task commended by O’Brien’s heroes in U.S. Catholic history: Isaac Hecker, John A. Ryan, and especially John Courtney Murray, all of whom saw a near-perfect fit between an enlightened Catholicism and the best of American democracy. The same was true, I should add, of Michael Williams, founding editor of Commonweal, who wrote in 1921 of the Catholic Church as a time-tested, divinely guided “dynamo” that could...

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