The Personalist Project

     My kids were shocked one day to find me listening to National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”  (My father, who has a penchant for accuracy, calls it “Some Things Considered from a Certain Point of View.”)  The children realize that I’m prone to fits of boredom brought on by onion-chopping and cheese-sauce stirring, but they’re used to seeing me cook supper while soaking in the wisdom of Kresta in the Afternoon

or at least getting my info-tainment from someone who’s generally on the pro-life side of the political divide.

     They never thought I’d sink so low.

     I explained to them that it’s important to keep tabs on what the bad guys are up to.

And that’s true, but it’s not the whole story. 

     Actually, I enjoy unearthing grains of truth in the most unlikely places.  In recent weeks, this has gotten a little out of hand.  Yes, politics makes strange bedfellows, but lately I’ve found myself agreeing (up to a point!) with Maureen Dowd, Ross Douthat (another writer from the Opinions page of The New York Times), and Louis Farrakhan.

 I don’t know how to convey just how weird that is. 

     Don’t get me wrong: I want my children to learn that being on the side of Truth is all-important.  We have a zero-tolerance policy for moral or metaphysical squishiness around here.  But I don’t want them to respond with knee-jerk acceptance or knee-jerk rejection to a truth-claim based solely on who’s making it.

 You can miss out on a lot of reality that way.

     Another advantage of listening to the other side: if there are intellectually honest, well-intentioned, thoughtful people out there on the side of falsity, you can be familiar enough with their thought processes to speak in a language they understand.  You can’t force anybody's assent to truth, and infusing the supernatural gift of faith is above the pay grade of us all--but you can put the ball in their court, pray for them, respect their freedom, and let God give the growth. 

     To those who are not so sure these well-intentioned people are really out there, I have some names for you:

  • Leah Libresco, atheist just turned Catholic;

  • Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe” in Roe v. Wade) and Abby Johnson (former Planned Parenthood director), now both pro-life activists;
  • the late Chuck Colson (Watergate criminal turned Prison Ministries founder),

  • Anthony Flew (author and subject of How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind),


  • Francis Collins (former atheist and a leader of the Human Genome Project, now a Christian)

 and, let’s see, how about

  • St. Augustine

     Sometimes, too, grains of truth can be found in sources that are not so much pagan or heretical as just kind of silly.  For example, the pop psychology you find in bestselling self-help books is easy to dismiss.   And often rightly so.  But sometimes our increasingly superficial and confused culture will produce somebody who latches onto a piece of real wisdom.  I think Steven Covey did that in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and I think John Gray did, too, in Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (although his Children are from Heaven was so ridiculous it was hard to believe one man had written them both).   

     Fr. Michel Esparza, whose Love and Self-Esteem I’m in the midst of translating,

is someone who knows how to sift through all kinds of chaff to get to the wheat.  He quotes Men are from Mars and Gary Smalley’s If Only She Knew (a bestselling book of marriage advice—short on big words but long on common sense).  And he quotes them right alongside Aristotle, Tolstoy, von Hildebrand, and Pope Benedict.  Instead of reflexively rejecting the contents of the New York Times bestseller list, he seeks out the best of both worlds.  He goes back to things in themselves, as Josef Seifert always taught us to do. 

He doesn’t hesitate to reject the evil and silliness mixed in with the grains of truth, but he doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater either

He sees, for example, that writers addressing self-esteem are groping—some more successfully than others—towards a genuine understanding of rightly ordered self-love, and he’s happy to give credit where credit is due.  On the other hand, when he runs into the proposal of a complicated (and expensive) stereophonic system that whispers to you about how fabulous you are as you sleep, he gives it no more respect than it deserves.

          In the end, It all goes back to forming the person from the inside, not just arranging his environment from the outside.   By all means, stay far, far away from Maureen Dowd and Louis Farrakhan if you’re half-heartedly setting out to determine truth and falsity, good and evil, based on how their spokesmen make you feel.  But realize that relativists and atheists don't actually have any arguments that can stand up to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Remember St. Paul's words:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

In other words, have no fear of the bad guys.



Comments (1)

Katie van Schaijik

#1, Jul 5, 2012 8:56am

Devra, I consider the open-minded and fearless engagement with ideas, whatever the source, among the greatest gifts the IAP gave me.

Thanks for reminding me to give thanks again!

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