Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2000
Daughter, dad tangle over religion
Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions About God, by Michael Novak and Jana Novak. New York: Pocket Books, 1998. 307 pages.
Review by DEAN SARNECKI
Special to the WCR
Have you ever received from one of your children a question regarding the existence of God or about God that has stumped you?
Have you fallen back on the old "because that is what you are supposed to believe," or, "that is what the Church says," or even more honestly, "Go ask your mother!"
I have to admit, both as a parent and a teacher, I am often posed questions that I cannot answer. While I try to avoid evasive answers, I wish I could provide the answer that would lead the questioner to solid faith or at least to lead them to inquire further into their own beliefs.
This is somewhat the situation that Michael and Jana Novak found themselves in. However, unlike my children or students, when Jana, a recent college graduate, asked her father, Michael, an eminent Catholic theologian, to answer some deep questions regarding faith, Church and morals, he was able to provide for her clear direction and responses.
The book, Tell Me Why, is a dialogue between father and daughter that started quite innocently when Michael was attending a conference in Warsaw and received a fax from Jana.
Jana had asked for a couple of books on religion before Michael had left and a few days later a long fax, filled with questions about God, faith, Church and religion, arrives. Michael leapt at the chance to answer his daughter.
Due to the number and depth of the questions being answered it was decided by Michael to complete the activity as a book.
Michael Novak had written a similar text in the 1960s entitled Belief and Unbelief. Over a period of time, discussions between father and daughter, and a number of rewrites, the final product was completed and reads somewhat like an extended dialogue.
I found the book intriguing. The questions posed by Jana are real questions and presented in a way that I encounter as teacher in a Catholic school on a daily basis.
Her attitudes and opinions are those of a young person raised in the 1980s and '90s. Her interest and investigation in popular New Age philosophies and the practice of moral relativism found among her friends are not uncommon among teenagers in Alberta today.
Jana makes it clear from the beginning that she struggles with much of "traditional" Christianity and Catholicism. And while Michael is a Catholic theologian, he does present in his responses an ecumenical attitude.
His ability to draw from various Christian, Jewish and Muslim teachings to represent the nature of the divine is excellent. The Jewish roots of Christianity and what we share in common heritage with the Jews is clearly presented.
Make no mistake, however, Michael Novak is Catholic and this comes through clearly in his defence of specific Catholic doctrines and customs. He strongly defends the Church's hierarchical structure, the ban on women priests, the role of women in the Church, and Catholic moral teachings on contraception and abortion.
Michael Novak's depth and scope of knowledge and reading is immense. He quotes from a variety of sources, depending heavily on C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton who wrote many defences of Catholic teachings in the early part of the 20th century.
In regards to biblical material Novak relies on Raymond Brown (Christian Scriptures) and John McKenzie (Hebrew Scriptures).
I found this to be an excellent resource book as an introduction to Christianity, specifically Catholic Christianity. This would be an excellent tool for use in RCIA and for teachers of religious education who are trying to understand and share with others the basic issues of faith and belief.
I did not necessarily agree with all of his positions regarding ecclesiology and some of his conservative views, in fact, often I found myself siding more with Jana in her questioning. In general Michael and Jana Novak have produced an interesting and readable text dealing with basic theology.
(Dean Sarnecki teaches religious studies at Archbishop Jordan Catholic High School in Sherwood Park.)