Those Were the Days

by Michael Potemra

I was just reading Lin Yutang’s Modern Library anthology (dated 1938) of the writings of Confucius, and this passage in the foreword leaped out at me: “Confucius would undoubtedly have been a High Churchman in temperament, an Episcopalian or a Roman Catholic, if he were a Christian. . . . Furthermore, he was a conservative, like all Episcopalians or Roman Catholics, and believed in authority and in continuity with the past.” (Emphasis added.) What a sweet snapshot of a bygone age, long before John Shelby Spong, Gene Robinson, Richard McBrien, Garry Wills, and John Kerry . . . . but it points to an important underlying truth. The lefties get most of the attention, but the vigor that exists in these traditions comes largely from powerful intellectual forces (embodied in such figures as Benedict XVI and N.T. Wright) that seek to assert a “hermeneutic of continuity” with their origins. These traditions will survive precisely because of the underlying “conservatism” that connects them to the basic, historic proclamation of their faith.