Many years ago Archbishop Robert Morse (retired), Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), created a publication that he named The New Oxford Review (NOR). The name was meant to reflect the legacy of the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism; for though the publication was founded in Berkeley, California where Morse had been a university chaplain since the 1950s, and where he founded St. Joseph of Arimathea Seminary, "Oxford" identified the spiritual heritage that the publication was intended to propagate.
But, Archbishop Morse lost control of NOR when the editor, Dale Vree (a former Marxist who had managed to return to the United States after trying to live his dream in a worker's paradise), in Morse's words, "hijacked it" away from him. Archbishop Morse was explaining these things to me in 2005, when, at the age of 82, he thought to start up a new publication, and was wondering if I would consider the position of editor. After his heart attack in early 2007, however, the whole subject died away.
Someone else summarized the history of NOR to me in an email recently,
"When NOR started it was pretty good and quite High Church Anglican. It even published articles by noted Anglicans of the Low Church variety, such as Philip Edgcumbe Hughes. Its style of Anglo-Catholicism might even be described as having been of the Charles Gore/Lux Mundi type. That's going back about 30 years. It went increasingly Romeward, became a fairly balanced RC magazine for a few years, and then swerved hard right. It lost its finest contributors as a consequence...before that they were publishing pieces by Henri Nouwen, Robert Cole, and other persons they would later regard as dangerous lefties. They really dropped to their lowest when they started attacking Hans Urs von Balthasar and R. J. Neuhaus."
Today, the magazine retains its Anglican name for no apparent reason, unless they contend that their conversion to Roman Catholicism is the natural destination of Oxford Movement thinking (something that had proved true only in the case of Newman, and to none of his fellow tractarians). From much of their advertising, one would imagine that NOR represents some huge movement of Anglo-Catholics who converted along with them, when it seems obvious that Mr. Vree and his son Pieter, who is now the editor, constituted this mass exodus.
Added to their transparently fraudulent grasp of an obvious misnomer, is the descent of the publication from a once respected periodical with intellectually viable substance and true gravitas, to an attempt to create a Roman Catholic version of Jack T. Chic comic book tracts. It has not yet become as disreputable as the notorious anti-Semitic rag, Culture Wars-not quite and not yet. It has become, however, of the same basic genre.
This brings me to the unpleasant reason for why I am addressing you, readers of The Continuum, about NOR. In their January-February issue, a copy of which the editor mailed to me personally, I saw the terribly embarrassing words, "Fr. Hart has written for us before." To deny this would be pointless, and it is wiser to own up to one's mistakes. I will, however, explain.
Sometime circa 2003 0r 4, I found that one of my articles intended for Touchstone would have been completely redundant. Dr. William Tighe suggested that I send it to NOR (despite the unfortunate fact that they do not pay). Having seen almost no issues that were recent, except for one carrying Dr. Tighe's factual report about Anglican Use Roman Catholicism (having read exactly two of the articles in that issue at the time), I went ahead and took his advice. Why not? Pieter Vree wrote back that they wanted to publish it. Fine, I figured; so I agreed.
But, several months later I saw the issue in which my article appeared, along with bellicose editorials that sent chills up my spine. I immediately wrote to Archbishop Morse to apologize, because I was serving then in the APCK in Arizona, and I thought that having my name in NOR might prove to be an embarrassment to the church. In the following years I thought I had lived down the embarrassment, until their January-February issue this year.
Furthermore, I want to distance myself from the hate speech of the NOR editorial that contains references to me about one of my recently published essays in Touchstone. Not only am I horrified by the angry and hateful tone of the NOR editorial in question, with its hatchet-job character assassination of a well loved artist, John Lennon (as if his actual assassination was not enough for their sanctified blood lust), carried out by an editor all too proud to show himself a cultural Philistine in the process; but, also I feel responsible inasmuch as my writing provided an occasion for NOR's libeling the dead. 1
In the NOR hit piece, it is obvious that Mr. Vree would prefer to dismiss my analysis of the challenge contained in Lennon's controversial 1966 statement, and to misrepresent my Touchstone essay as an attempt to rehabilitate John Lennon's image as some kind of devout Christian. Perhaps Mr. Vree was wearing a blindfold when he read my work, if he read it all before feeling qualified to write and publish an editorial about it. Also, he seems to think it is better simply to dismiss Lennon's real statement in favor of the popular and standard misrepresentation of it. He assigns it to drug abuse, and calls it "incoherent." The problem is, John Lennon's controversial statement was totally coherent. It was not the rambling of someone on an LSD trip, but the honest challenge of a published author and genuine intellectual who read everything he could get his hands on-including the Bible.
NOR fails the test of sound journalism.
The problem with writing anything that involves a celebrity, especially a Beatle, is that readers are somewhat overwhelmed by the very name, and any point one is trying to make disappears all too easily from view. I understand. I saw Paul McCartney in concert last year, and, old man that I am, part of me was a kid again, excited to see a Beatle with my own eyes (I didn't even feel that excited when I saw Vladimir Horowitz with the same two eyes). However, my essay was really about what John Lennon said in 1966. Pieter Vree's nasty little editorial, however, was about John Lennon.
Actually, Vree's piece was about some fiction character created in his own mind, a character he named John Lennon, but not accurate enough to qualify even as a caricature. This is important, because if NOR applies such sloppy standards to journalistic accuracy, and if their chief editor is willing to publish without doing any basic research, how can we trust anything they might report about anyone? If they target John Lennon with such venom, and without any regard for truth, what about anything they might say about, for example, Hans Urs von Balthasar or R. J. Neuhaus? Also, why should readers trust their evaluation of current events?
I know what Vree did. He copied and pasted a lot of stuff from the internet, a good deal of which I would have discarded as lacking in verification, or as highly unlikely, especially given the errors in chronology that I could spot for myself. Vree would have his readers believe that John Lennon died confused about his own identity, thinking he was, himself, Christ. He based this idiotic notion on a dubious story about one particular LSD trip supposedly in 1968. Never mind that 1968 was twelve years before the year Lennon died, or that 1968 is simply too late (for, the Beatles went to India because they were getting as far away from the LSD culture as they could. The spokesman for that was George Harrison, summarizing the Los Angelos LSD movement with the lyrics, "There's a fog upon LA, And my friends have lost their way"--a little journalistic research is not all that hard to do).
I encountered the problem with modern journalism during my time writing for The Christian Challenge. I discovered that the method used all too often today is for journalists to wait for the press release, or simply to copy and paste, rearrange a word or two, add their own name as a byline, and hit "send." I was not willing to work that way. As a result, Christian Challenge readers read facts that no one else had bothered to dig up. For example, only our readers were told that many of the parishes of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in their rival Diocese of San Joaquin, in 2008, had merely taken the name of an existing parish from a given city or town, and created a "virtual" church. That is, most of the TEC San Joaquin (as opposed to the Southern Cone San Joaquin) churches existed only on the internet, and had no physical location at all except a P.O. Box (a bit small to hold services, worse than Groucho's state room). Any other journalist could have uncovered these facts, but they did not bother. So, I came out looking very good, when in fact all I did was the most basic work of looking into the details, something they all should have done.
Now, if Vree had wanted to know about a man as famous as John Lennon, he could have read Stawberry Fields Forever, John Lennon Remembered. He could have watched the Music Remastered documentary, or the American Masters production Lennon NYC made for PBS, easily available on DVD. He could have done something other than merely to copy and paste the most damning, and most dubious, internet garbage, all of which any idiot could find.
If this low standard of fact checking, and this mad effort at character assassination, is what passes for journalism with NOR, what else should readers dismiss in their periodical? It seems that they not only are eager to trash real human beings, but willing to display the most unprofessional standards in order to libel, defame and mislead. No, this is not about John Lennon, though his image may dominate the conversation. This is about NOR and why no one should trust anything in its pages.
As for John Lennon, of course he was a sinner (who isn't?). I am not writing to whitewash him. He did beat up a man for insulting him early in the Beatles' career. He did experiment with LSD in 1966. He did divorce his first wife and marry a second. He did have Yoko Ono make important decisions based on Astrology. He did consort with radical leftists in 1972, such as Abbie Hoffmann (which Lennon, a genuine pacifist, came to regret). He did hit rock bottom in what he later called his "lost weekend," the 18 month period of drunken anger while separated from his wife, and living in Los Angelos. But, that is not the whole story.
Now, if I could find that out, Mr. Vree could have found it out too, and should have rather than publishing his work of fiction. I made sure I was well informed on my subject before writing for publication. Mr. Vree does not accept the same obligation to NOR readers.
My own personal reflections come in the context of having lived through the events, and having run into "holy hate" before. Furthermore, I ran into "holy hate" directed at the same person, not once but many times. Yes, he did write the words, "and no religion too." But, in the context of what armies "kill and die for" the words make perfect sense, even if the Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens dupes of our time want to claim the words for their camp (as the facts show, their Atheist camp has no right to those words).
Before I wrote the essay that was published in the October-November Touchstone, I had written another. I decided not to submit the first one, because it did not address the relevant points with a culturally significant and wide application, nor did it contain that element that ought to be in every Touchstone essay, to make the reader say, "I never thought of it that way before." But, for you who read this blog regularly, you might want to know what I experienced just over thirty years ago that makes me eager, ever so eager, to distance myself from the NOR editorial. I see a Roman Catholic version (not to blame Roman Catholicism itself) of the same thing I had experienced before among Fundamentalists of another kind. So, here is the essay I did not submit:
The Ugly Christian
New Oxford Review