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Review: John Zmirak’s ‘Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism’

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Michael Hamburger, a Jew born in Germany and exiled in England in 1933, borrowed the persona of the previous century’s German Romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin to express in verse the madness of the modern world. For Hamburger, Holderlin’s well-documented … shall we approach this delicately? … mental issues, were a proportional response to a world he perceived as approaching the precipice. In his 1941 poem titled “Holderlin,” Hamburger wrote:

I have no tears to mourn forsaken gods
Or my lost voice.
This is my wisdom where no laughter sounds,
No sighs, this is my peace.

Glory is gone, and the swimming clouds;
My dumb hand grips the frozen sky,
A black bare tree in the winter dark.

For truly observant Roman Catholics, the contemporary milieu echoes Hamburger’s lament vis-a-vis Holderlin about “forsaken gods,” or, at the very least, forgotten or casually ignored for convenience’s sake Church history, doctrine, dogma and precepts.

Zmirak

Overtly, one need look no further than recent WikiLeaks’ revelations concerning John Podesta and company’s desire for a “Catholic spring;” the Affordable Care Act’s attempted bulldozing of religious liberties; the media and its “green” allies embracement of many of the pronouncements found in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si encyclical; government compulsion of florists and pastry chefs to violate their respective religious conscience; the tragic abortion morass wrought by the Supreme Court’s discovery of an unknown until 1973 penumbra of privacy in the U.S. Constitution; and the combined deleterious effects on the family unit caused by the twinning of the sexual revolution with no-fault divorce.

Less obvious are efforts within the Church itself, which include nuns, laity and clergy promoting government wealth-redistribution efforts under the guise of charity as well as engaging in ill-informed “environmental” activism that pose very real negative threats to the world’s poorest – and consistently contradict the Church’s explicit teachings on such matters. As your writer can attest, post-Vatican II Catholic school education did little to inform its students about the Deposit of the Faith due to focusing on such “social goods” as economic equality and using pop music lyrics to advance squishy theological concepts that tilted heavily toward socialism and pantheism. One need only close one’s eyes to recall the wheat-germ scented nuns of the 1970s agitating for more government programs.

It’s all enough to make someone stand athwart Christian history, yelling Stop! – and that someone is John Zmirak, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide® to Catholicism: The Most Politically Incorrect Institution in the World! (Regnery Publishing, 2016, 370 pp, $21.99). Those of us familiar with Zmirak’s other books and essays shouldn’t be surprised he wields a mighty pen and encyclopedic knowledge of Catholicism and many other topics when it comes to demolishing liberal shibboleths and the agendas to which they’re attached.

It’s all quite simple, he explains, and proves it in wonderfully complex detail that is nevertheless easily understandable and often quite funny – although detractors might discern no dearth of glibness, stridency and impatience with those ideologues that deliberately misinterpret and twist the Catholic faith to their own nefarious and/or boneheaded ends. Among those singled out by Zmirak are the “seamless-garment” folks, a group whose beliefs but one are shared by the majority of the Democratic National Committee. Zmirak explains:

[Cardinal Joesph Bernardin (1928-96)] was the most influential Catholic prelate in America. He reigned from 1982 to 1996 as archbishop of Chicago, and in that time was credited as the guiding force behind some of the most politically activist statements from the U.S. Catholic Conference. Under his tutelage, the American bishops embraced positions on economics, welfare policy, and defense that were a virtual mirror image of the Democratic Party platform.

Bernardin was the Catholic Left’s key rhetorician and strategist. By 1983 he invented the term “seamless garment” to describe a supposedly consistent pro-life philosophy which must bind every Catholic. To be truly pro-life, Bernardin claimed, one must go far beyond opposing abortion and euthanasia – which entail the direct killing of innocent human beings. It was equally important, he suggested, to take correct Catholic stands on a long list of topics including military spending, Medicaid funding, pollution control, the minimum wage, food stamps, and pretty much every subject dear to the Democratic National Committee. By presenting such disparate issues as a “seamless” whole, and pretending that their own progressive views on these subjects bore the stamp of Church authority, leftist Christians could claim that while Republicans might be sound on just one of those topics – abortion – Democrats were better on all others. So pro-lifers not only could but probably should vote for liberal pro-choice candidates, since on balance their record was better. And hey presto! Proponents of abortion had an argument that being a pro-choice Democrat was compatible with being a Catholic: “Sure I may differ with the Church on one or two issues, but so does my Republican opponent. Unlike him, I stand with the bishops’ conference on Medicaid, immigration, and U.S. policy toward Neeka-RAO-gu-WAH.”

Zmirak then proceeds to dismantle such hooey by employing the history and doctrine of the actual Catholic faith that he has previously and usefully provided as a primer in the first several chapters of the book. Additionally, he identifies “scientism” (as opposed to actual science), Liberation Theology and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism as anathema to Catholic teaching. Not only does he provide solid evidence, he further supports his arguments with Scripture, papal encyclicals and such third-party sources as the often brilliant writings of Acton’s own Samuel Gregg and Joseph Carter to great effect. Also useful are the several “Books You’re Not Supposed to Read” sidebars Zmirak peppers throughout each chapter.

Lest readers be put off by the title and picture of gun-toting nuns on the cover, it should be noted, Zmirak also has kind words for the ecumenical partnerships observant Catholics have formed with like-minded Protestants. His gloss on Catholicism and free markets also is highly recommended for those unfamiliar with the writings of Sam Gregg that obviously informed Zmirak’s chapter:

When, as we shall see, Leo XIII and his successors condemned every form of socialism, they were recognizing that forcibly taking from people the property, fertility, and liberty that monks and nuns willingly give up indeed amounts to a diabolical parody of the good. Let’s give those popes credit for being prophets: long before the gulag, and the famines and purges that decimated Russia, China, North Korea, and Cambodia had demonstrated the true evil of socialism, these theologically educated men saw it. The popes were relying on more than logic; they also had the lessons of history – in the form of crackpot millenarian movements that had erupted in late medieval Europe, composed of outraged peasants and self-appointed messiahs who began as penitents trying to ward off the plague by scourging themselves and ended as armed mobs massacring Jews and merchants and creating short-lived tyrannies that tried to abolish liberty, property, and the family—and the clear principles of moral law written in both revelation and on the human heart.

Zmirak’s work deserves to be read by every journalist presuming to write at all on Catholic matters, but as well warrants perusal by practicing and nominal Catholics in order for them to understand each other from a common perspective and vocabulary too often neglected in favor of partisan bickering. Lastly, there is much in Zmirak’s book that may enlighten people of all faiths or no faith whatsoever as it presents clearly what and why Roman Catholics are supposed to believe, why we should be held to our professed faith and as well presents common ground for our shared goals for a flourishing society before total madness takes hold. All is not lost, and the sky remains a long way from frozen.

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Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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