09 February, 2005

A letter to the New Oxford Review

Editor, New Oxford Review
1069 Kairns Avenue
Berkeley CA 94706

To the editor:

Thank you for the past three issues of the New Oxford Review. Reading them has been quite an experience. Please cancel my subscription and, if you do not mind, refund whatever balance I have.

I feel somewhat obliged to explain why I am canceling my subscription. You need only read the remainder of this letter if you are yourself curious.

To begin with, the advertisement that attracted me to your publication suggested that yours would be more of a “happy-warrior” type publication (a là National Review, for example). Alas, the past three months have disappointed me: I have certainly found the “warrior,” but I strain to find the “happy.” I see that I am not alone in this disappointment, since long-time subscriber Michael Eversman mentions in a letter published in your February issue that he has witnessed a sharp turn during “the past couple of years.”

It does not take much effort to be a crude, vulgar carp; I can do that myself; as you know, many of our colleagues on the left-wing have become experts at it these last few decades. (The last few years have become particularly bad, at least in academia.) It does take effort to express oneself wittily and inspiringly, and I confess that I am not very good at it myself. Since I was looking for that, and I fail to find it, nor do I perceive any interest in striving for that, I see no point in maintaining a subscription.

Second. Some years ago, I pursued a vocation to the priesthood. I spent several years in discernment, including some time in a diocesan seminary, before concluding that God was not calling me to the priesthood. During that period, I became acquainted with several of the vocation directors of the Province of St. Joseph, including Fr. Mark Nowell (although, during most of my discernment, Fr. Ken Sicard was the vocation director). Everyone I met struck me as orthodox and in love with Jesus Christ and His Church; unlike certain religious orders, I never witnessed any bitterness directed towards the Holy Father.

The article on Providence College and the Dominican priests struck me as a nakedly one-sided smear job written by a disappointed aspirant. I had planned to write a fuller reply to that article, but since I lack the time, I put it aside too often and finally gave up. (I’m writing a dissertation, and I hope to defend it in March; this rather stunts my schedule.) I was glad to see Fr. Nowell’s response, and while I must confess that he didn’t mount a very effective defense against the charges of the article, I don’t think he was trying, either. He certainly maintained an excellent humor about an article that smears him, the university where he works, and the religious order to which he gave his life, whereas the article you published, as well as your reply to his letter, fail to reflect any openness to the “intellectual give and take” that you claim to desire, from what I read in your reply to Albert Walsh’s letter.

I wish you all the best in your magazine’s future, and if the “happiness” ever returns to your warriors, or if you know of a “happy warrior” publication that defends Catholic orthodoxy, please inform me, since my interest in such a publication remains undimmed.


(my signature & address)


Anonymous said...

You might want to try First Things, Touchstone, or Crisis.


jack perry said...

I've seen First Things; in fact, a priest friend arranged to send me a free copy. I think the subscription price was a little steeper than what I wanted to pay at the time; NOR is half as much. Also, while it wasn't as obnoxious as NOR, it didn't seem to meet my criteria for a "happy" warrior.

I've looked at Crisis before, and for whatever reason, I wasn't impressed. I know that NOR has been slamming them lately.

I've never heard of Touchstone; I'll look for them.

I used to subscribe to National Catholic Register. That's a superb publication, but I didn't feel up to the $90 renewal this year (or however much it was, maybe only $54 — it's a steal either way) when I was about to move. I may just wait until I have a job (hopefully within a few months) & go with them.

jack perry said...

Hmm. What I wrote could come across wrong; I should add that First Things did impress me with its seriousness, and there were one or two articles that were superb.

It's online, isn't it? Yes — here it is.

Anonymous said...

Touchstone is here: http://www.touchstonemag.com/

They're pugnacious. I don't know if they're happy, exactly.

I used to have a subscription to First Things (for a few years). It features many great articles by very learned and thoughtful people. Then again there are some definitely some "unhappy warrior" moments as well. Come to think of it I believe NOR lashed out at FT's Richard John Neuhaus a few times - he had a running battle with them over something or other. I think they accused him of universalism when he suggested that orthodox Catholics can, trusting in God's mercy, hope that hell is empty.

One great thing about FT is that it's all available online as soon as the next issue comes out - the archives are free.

So why bother subscribing? My subscription began to seem a luxury. The other problem was that I found myself getting tired of RJN's hobby horses - spitting contemptously on environmentalists, Jesuits, liberation theology, evolution, birth control, gay people, mainline churches, etc, etc, ad nauseum. (Not to mention the way he's always vigorously defended Pope JPII on every occasion, but when the Pontiff spoke up against the invasion of Iraq RJN suddenly started criticizing him! I suspect that his emotional allegiance is torn between the Pope and the Republican Party.)

While it is an ecumenical publication, I found certain issues had very little of interest, because they would mostly about uniquely Catholic or American concerns - long articles on why Pope Someone the Somethingth's encyclical on condoms was way ahead of its time, coupled with long articles on the Constitution and the judicial usurpation of politics. I did my best to learn & care about these topics, but since I'm neither a Catholic nor an American, it got tedious.

I defnitely know what you mean about 'happy warriors' forgetting all about the happy part. NOR is pretty extreme, but I encountered similar acrimony in Touchstone and FT. It started to seem like these people were more in love with their pet crusades and anger than with Christ.

I suppose the truth is that I'm a wishy-washy liberal Anglican at heart... Anyways, when I'm looking for learned, rigorous thinking on religious topics, I still turn to FT, along with Books & Culture:


Oh, and Image is good too:



PS (One recent FT article I really enjoyed was Orwell for Christians) - http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0412/articles/griffiths.htm

PPS Sorry for the rambling comment. I started free-associating.

jack perry said...

Thanks for pointing those out. I read the article on Orwell. It was very informative, but I also found it a little too... uhm... "theoretical". What I mean is, I have the impression that Dr. Griffiths has constructed a caricature of Orwell to fit his theory, rather than forming this theory around the real Orwell. I have absolutely no evidence for this, except that my hackles rise whenever I read something of this this sort.

I suppose that part of the trouble is that I don't really like Orwell much. I've read 1984 and Animal Farm, and I liked them a great deal when I read them. To tell the truth, I still like Animal Farm, because I see quite a bit of it in action today, especially that last bit about the animals' not being able to distinguish between the men and the pigs — doesn't that characterize modern politics in America (where Republicans are expanding government programs at an explosive rate, and Democrats are advocating liberty against government laws — this is all regardless of what I think of the arguments, mind).

Nevertheless, it's hard to find Orwell appealling after having read Huxley's Brave New World. I know that Huxley later reconsidered his criticism of that dystopia — I've read that his experimentation with drugs had something to do with that — but I think this original ideas were more or less correct.

I really, really hope I'm wrong.

jack perry said...

Don't worry about the rambling. Actually you gave me more to write about :-)

For example: I think [NOR] accused [RJN] of universalism when he suggested that orthodox Catholics can, trusting in God's mercy, hope that hell is empty.RJN has probably gotten that from Hans urs von Balthasar; as far as I can tell, Balthasar basically reopened that question for "orthodox" Catholics. Balthasar's treatise "Dare We Hope 'That All Men Be Saved'?" has infuriated a great many people who have never actually read it, but are obsessed with Western culture's effective universalism. I remember reading bitter arguments about this some years ago between Lefebvrists and "orthodox" Catholics. During the three months that I read NOR, I observed that a number of Lefebvrist sympathies. (Since you're a liberal Anglican, you might not know what I mean by "Lefebvrist"; let me know if not.)

I don't remember reading any comments of RJN's on the recent Iraq war. I'm sure I must have, since I received that that free issue at some point last year. I never found the pope's position particularly lamentable, and in fact I think the pope's expressed position — in contrast to that of certain members of the Vatican inner circle, esp. Cardinal Martini — was prophetic. I also have a lot of esteem for the pope's turning around after the war and saying (more or less) Now that it is a fait accompli, let us work for a better Iraq. (Or so I read somewhere.)

You add: I suspect that [RJN's] emotional allegiance is torn between the Pope and the Republican Party.Again, I can't really comment on RJN, not having read enough of him. It wouldn't at all surprise me however if he's one of the enormous number of American Catholics who grew up voting Democrat, then changed to Republican during Reagan's time. There are many reasons for this, but I think the biggest one is that the Democrats went off the deep end. (See for example my previous article here) I am not alone in saying this; there is a very deep sense of betrayal among many of these Catholics, especially over the abortion issue. I recently read an article, which I cannot find at the moment, that points to how the Democratic party treated pro-life Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey as an untouchable, and has since lost "the Catholic vote" (such as it is). The Republicans gave these Catholics a home where they could at least speak out against abortion on the national stage and even enact legislation restricting it, although quite frankly I don't think the Republicans have been nearly as helpful on this as pro-life Christians' loyalty would suggest.

As I wrote above, I spent some years discerning a religious vocation; this process connected me with one group of priests who I really liked. I was excited about them, and I was determined to apply to them... until I sat down at lunch with them on the last day, and they started talking about politics, and all the young ones began spouting Republican talking points. It was clear that they weren't Republicans because of their Catholicism, either; the Republican party seemed to come first, and Catholicism came second. I remember one or two of the older priests looking embarassed.

Finally... you're right to mention Christianity Today. I keep forgetting it! :-) I seem to think that there's a reason I don't like it, maybe because when I look at it, I don't perceive the Church as the bride of Christ as much as the Church as an institution; I feel their faith less in my body and soul than in my intellect. I don't know if you can understand what I'm trying to say, except that it "feels" like a very Protestant publication: sterile and colorless. Think of an Italian parade with a gaudily-colored statue, and compare it to Protestants' horror of the same, and you have some idea of what I'm talking about. I'm exaggerating of course, but I have no other idea how to explain it.

Enough for now. As you see, you're not the only one who can ramble. :-)