I read Christopher Ruddy’s review of volume two of my Christian Community in History with some surprise (8/1). The whole two-volume work is a history, not of the church, but of ecclesiology, the understanding of the church. Thus I was pleased when he wrote of the author’s largely evenhanded expositions of diverse ecclesiologies and recommended it as a text and reference work for graduate and advanced undergraduate students. This was the goal of the work. The surprise came with the harsh criticism which followed, and I sought an explanation.
I have formulated a theory. I wonder whether Mr. Ruddy thinks that Volume Two of C.C.H. is the systematic theology that I promised when I indicated that the two-volume work C.C.H. was itself the first part of a two-part ecclesiology from below which I hope will be followed by a more systematic and constructive essay. As a theory it accounts for several things about his review: first, he seems to want a history from above, something that is at least paradoxical. In this historical ecclesiology, the transcendent dimensions of the church, especially the roles of Christ and the Spirit, appear in all the examples that are analyzed, thereby suggesting historically a normative, ecclesiological constant. Second, he asks many questions that can be answered only in a systematics. And third, his review reads as though he thinks my lack of a long conclusion means that Volume Two of C.C.H. is the end of my ecclesiology. Actually, the promised concluding systematic volume which, will address many of his questions, is under construction. It will draw out in an explicit way the transcendent dimensions that appear in the comparison of ecclesiologies among themselves and with the sources of Christian theology.
I do not know whether this theory is true, but it accounts for much if not all of the data. I think that my long sentences may be due to the early influence of Karl Rahner! In any case, if it is true, it would mean that Ruddy did not recognize the difference between the history of ecclesiology and a systematic ecclesiology, something that would subtract from the value of his judgments.
Roger Haight, S.J.
New York, N.Y.
I am responding to the very last sentence in Of Many Things by George M Anderson, S.J., (8/1): As individual states continue to abolish the use of capital punishment, one can hope that grim scenes like the one at Sing Sing in 1953 will never be repeated. I ask what states are you talking about. New Mexico made an attempt to abolish the death penalty within the last few months. It would have been the first state to have done so in decades. It failed to do so.
I would also like to point out this campaign to end the use of the death penalty that is well under way was not very vocal here. I live in New Mexico and did not hear or read anything from the bishops during the time the repeal was being considered. If that was an example of the the bishops putting their full weight into emphasizing the documents’ abolition message, then they need to learn to use their weight better.
James Youniss’s portrait of Germany (I Know It When I See It, 7/4) as a country where Christian principles are distinctive enough and the ethical compass for future direction is still intact stuns me. He tries to make the case that despite low church attendance and growing discomfort with Catholic teachings, Germany, in some subtle way, remains a Christian country, where people perhaps miss Sunday Mass but continue to appreciate Christian values like family and social justice. It’s a flattering, rosy picture of modern Germany. I like it. I wish it were true. But it is not.
In many ways, it seems to me, Youniss isn’t actually talking about Germany but rather about the United States. Many of the German policies he is praising are apparently meant to contrast with those of the United States: no support for capital punishment; publicly funded schools and universities; highly subsidized operas, theaters and orchestras; an efficient public transportation system; restrained capitalism; and the willingness of both the government and the people to acknowledge Germany’s role in international institutions without nationalistic reservation. These things might, indeed, attest to certain shortcomings in American policies and mentalities. That is for others to judge. But none of the examples that he points to can support the bold assessment that Germany remains a Christian country.
I am afraid I belong to those who believe that Germany, and most of Western Europe for that matter, is indeed experiencing something like de-Christianization. And here are the facts: 11 percent of all Germans and 15 percent of registered Catholics attend church every Sunday, down from 22 percent in 1990 and 50 percent in 1950. Fewer than half of all children are baptized in a Christian denomination; in the urban centers of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin, only one in 10 children is baptized. The church is scoring only with funerals: 92 percent of Catholics who died in 2003 had a Catholic funeral.
To be sure, Germans are not exactly atheists. According to a poll in April 2005, some 65 percent of Germans believe in some kind of God, and 59 percent believe that they can directly talk to God through prayer. But most Germans see faith as a private matter that has little or nothing to do with the church. Only 7 percent say that faith needs to be experienced in the community of the church. Sixty-one percent say that they do not believe in the church’s teachings.
Among my German friends and colleagues, I know very few who go to church. Most German intellectuals have an aggressive attitude toward the church in general and toward the Catholic Church in particular. A while ago there was a lot of laughter in our company about a co-worker who had admitted to praying with her kids at night. Almost everybody, it seemed, found that totally ridiculous. And when I got married in church a few years ago, many of my friends asked me: Why do you do that? Are you doing it for your parents? Or is it because you want to have a nice ceremony?
James Youniss wrote: Christian principles...ought to be recognizable when one sees them. I agree. But I do not see them very often any more in my native country.
Am I too negative? I pray that I am.