There be 'Isms'

Saturday Book Pick: John Zmirak's guide to navigating college ideologies.

Navigating a new college environment is difficult enough for Catholic freshmen without having to combat each secular philosophy and "ism" that lurks around every corner. Unless you’re fortunate enough to attend a faithful Catholic college or university, you need to discern the agenda of each and every professor. Chances are, it’s not compatible with the Catholic faith.

However, there is good news for students trying to crack the code of these "isms." John Zmirak, author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins and Choosing the Right Catholic College, has asked more than a dozen professors, priests, journalists, philosophers and theologians to help budding scholars navigate the tumultuous waters of college life. Catholic thinkers like Peter Kreeft, Jimmy Akin, Mark Shea, Robert Spencer, Father Dwight Longenecker, Elizabeth Scalia and Father George Rutler help readers sort out everything from hedonism, multiculturalism, relativism and modernism to Marxism, Americanism and feminism.

Spencer, known for his scholarship on radical Islam, tackles the nice-sounding idea of multiculturalism. The concept of cultural diversity might sound pleasant in the abstract, "but its partisans almost never take notice of the human dignity or cultural achievements of Christian, and particularly Catholic, Americans and Europeans," he writes. "Multiculturalism in practice maintains that all cultures are equal, but some are more equal than others."

Although the Cold War ended two decades ago, it may surprise some people to hear that leftist ideologies are alive and well on U.S. campuses. Jeffery Tucker, the editorial vice president at the Mises Institute, picks apart this ideology, which is based on conflict and has "deep roots embedded in issues of class, race, sex, religion, educational opportunity and many other inequalities." He notes that many Catholics who claim the mantle of Catholic social teaching have in fact claimed the basic tenets of Marxism — "class struggle, the labor theory of value, and group consciousness." He concludes by explaining that not only has Marxism been authoritatively condemned by the Church, but also that history has shown Marxist economic policies to be an utter failure — a grave warning for our nation today.

Equally surprising is the chapter on Americanism, penned by popular author and blogger Mark Shea. Shea contends that when loving America replaces loving God, things start to go terribly wrong. He reminds us that Americanism, condemned by Pope Leo XIII, "is the tendency to put conformity with American culture and politics before the teachings of the universal Church."

Disorientation is a quick, relatively easy read with intellectual ammunition with which every college student and parent should be equipped. Its writers break down the history of the various "isms," scrutinize their appeal, and expose the empty promises of their popular errors.

Patrick Novecosky writes from Naples, Florida.


How to Go to College

Without Losing Your Mind

Edited by John Zmirak

Ascension Press, 2010

188 pages, $12.99

To order:

(800) 376-0520