I recently sent my new book, Designed to Fail: Catholic Education in America, to EWTN for a possible inclusion on Doug Kecks' BookMarks program.
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I've never actually watched any EWTN program, nor have I heard more than a literal handful of their radio shows. We don't own a television, and the radio - when it is on - is generally tuned to classical music. Still, many Catholics swear by EWTN, so it is a useful place to make a Catholic offering known.
Now, Designed to Fail has been very well-received by reviewers, so imagine my surprise when I discovered the book had been turned down for theological reasons.
"Hmmm..." thought I to myself, thought I, "I wonder what on earth the problem could be. Perhaps they felt I treated America's nineteenth-century bishops a bit too harshly. But that seems odd. The analysis of the Americanist heresy is drawn from a Magisterial document they carry on their own website. Similarly, the discussion of Edgardo Mortrara's situation is based on the testimony he gives about himself, testimony also available on the EWTN website. What on earth could it be?"
I e-mailed, asking around at EWTN. This is the conversation that ensued. Only names have been omitted so as to spare the EWTN participants in the conversatuion their much-deserved opprobrium:
EWTN: "Unfortunately, theology has turned this book down."
ME: "Where would I get the theology report so I can discover what the problems are?"
EWTN: "one of the concerns was advising people to through out their tv sets" (sic)
ME: " LOL! Well, they can still listen to EWTN on the radio... I assume you're not being serious, right? "
EWTN: "you assume wrong ... sorry"
ME: "I assume they interpret Vatican Council II as meaning that it is a mortal sin not to watch television?Oh, ... I'm afraid EWTN is going to get SKEWERED on the blogs for this one! I'll be working on a press release ASAP. Thanks for the information!"
EWTN: "So this is not a private communication?"
ME: "EWTN has turned down a book that I submitted to them. If someone were to call EWTN and ask for the EWTN opinion on the book, EWTN would reply that it has theological problems, right? If EWTN is willing to tell people what they think about a book, then why can't I tell people what EWTN thinks about the book?"
Later that morning, I called EWTN to confirm the situation. I was actually laughing at the absurdity of the thing when they answered the phone.
This is the conversation we had:
EWTN: "Actually, we don't tell anyone what is wrong with a book. We just say we don't carry it."
ME: "Well, why on earth wouldn't you say what the problems were? Shouldn't people be told exactly where the difficulties lie, so they can identify similar problems in other works? Shouldn't the author know exactly where the difficulties lie, so he can correct the problems?"
EWTN: "We don't give out imprimaturs. We aren't the Church. There are a lot of reasons not to carry a book - tone, style, etc."
ME: "Yes, but in this instance, you found a 'theological' problem - you apparently think it is a violation of Vatican II's decree on communications, Inter Mirifica, for a family to throw out their television set or for anyone to tell a family to do so."
EWTN: "I don't know what the theology department meant by that. Perhaps it was a joke. Besides, none of your books have ever been carried by EWTN, have they?"
ME: "True. My first book, Scriptural Catholicism, now Bible Basics, was rejected by Deacon Steltemeier on the grounds that it was useless - no one would want such an apologetics text. In the same communication, he also asked if he could keep the review copy I sent him as he thought it would be marvelous assistance to him for composing his homilies. The next book I sent, Sex and the Sacred City, was turned down by EWTN but was subsequently picked up by Dr. Peter Kreeft, who wrote a rave review for it, called it one of the best books of 2005, and uses it in his classes at Boston College. Now this."
EWTN: "Well, Boston College is barely Catholic. Certainly something that is in use there would not necessarily be appropriate here."
ME: "Boston College does indeed have serious problems, but I've never heard anyone say that Peter Kreeft's classes were only nominally Catholic."
EWTN: "Peter is a personal friend of mine. I know Peter. I have the highest regard for Peter. But a college textbook is not necessarily the best thing for EWTN's audience."
We conversed for a few more minutes in this fashion, and then I said goodbye and gently cradled the phone, shaking my head.
I directed a letter to their theology department. This was the only reply I received:
"Thanks for your note. Sorry that I don't know the particulars of Theology's review. Don't know if you caught Fr. Groeschel's Sunday Night Live program last night, but he touched on this very same topic of Catholic education in America. Most interesting."
Nothing more has been communicated.
As far as I know, this is the offending section of the book, Chapter 14:
"So, get rid of your TV. Throw it out. What? Why yes, EWTN has quite a good set of programs. Oh, certainly I agree, the sports channel is mostly innocuous. Yes, it is absolutely wonderful that you have blocked MTV. I applaud the fact that you have restricted broadcast television viewing.
That’s great. I’m proud of you.
Now throw it out.
Television advertisements teach one thing: you don’t have enough. Whatever “enough” might be, you don’t have it and you won’t be happy until you get it, so you must go out and buy it. That is television’s only lesson, it is the lesson that runs through every other lesson. Just as the curriculum of the compulsory school is contraception, so the television curriculum is the curriculum of the needy, the incomplete, the whining child. You wouldn’t let a used car salesman live rent-free in the spare bedroom. Why let this thing live rent-free in your living room?
If you must have it, cut the cable, rip off the antennas and operate solely on the DVD and VCR players. Don’t permit your children to even be aware that broadcast or cable television exists until they have at least received the sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation and First Eucharist. They need grace to handle the stuff broadcast and cable have in store for them."
It's a mortal sin not to watch television.
I am a sinner.
Go thou, and do likewise.