I was Catholic professor of philosophy at several universities and seminaries in the years between 1969-2017. How welcome, now, is Fun Is Not Enough, a book of articles by the great Jesuit professor Fr. Francis Canavan (1917-2009) explaining and critiquing many of the erroneous concepts that made their way into our Church during the second half of the twentieth century. The short, pithy, and sometimes humorous essays, assembled by Dawn Eden, a disciple of Fr. Canavan and editor of Human Life Review, go far in explaining some current crises in the Church. Fr. Canavan was surely a prophetic voice when he wrote the articles, compiled in this book, for the catholic eye newsletter in the 1980s. I now consider Fr. Canavan to be one of Jesuit heroes of the past century. Most readers of this review will probably have many of the same names on their own such list.
Here is an excerpt from Fr. Canavan, which helps to explain the book’s title:
The young and foolish may rejoice in the thought that horrified Dostoevsky, that if there is no God, everything is permitted. Fools see only that, if there is no divine judge, there is no one to stop the fun, but older heads understand that fun is not enough.
In analyzing errors and falsehoods that infiltrated post-Vatican II thought in various quarters, Fr. Canavan shows how some transported the political concept of “loyal opposition” to dissent from the magisterium, and separating freedom and rights from any reference to the God-given nature of the human person leads even some Catholics to argue that even though they are personally opposed to abortion, others should have the right to perform it. His criticisms are timeless, as when he takes on the notion that individualism takes precedence over our nature as male or female—a viewpoint transported into the Church via the anger of some feminists about the male priesthood.
Here are some samples of Fr. Canavan’s incisive analysis of paradigms:
On abortion: “The fetus is cast as the party of the first part who pleads his right to live, which he cannot sustain without a temporary lease of the woman’s body. She is the part of the second part who asserts an absolute property right to her own body. The court must decide which of these rights should prevail. Since the fetus, when all is said and done, is an intruder on someone else’s property, he loses. That what he loses is his life may be regrettable, but the superior right has prevailed and so just has been done.”
“But how does one come to think of the beginning of human life and the morality of ending it in these terms? The answer, I believe, is that one is an intellectual heir of John Locke and therefore thinks of a human being as essentially an individual proprietor.”
On rights of same-sex attracted couples: “The original American proposition was that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Now the proposition is that all persons are equally entitled to the satisfaction of their sexual preferences, urges, and drives. Because the persons are equal, their appetites are equally worthy of society’s moral respect and the law’s protection.
“Some like chocolate, some like vanilla. Some like Mozart, others prefer heavy metal. Some like girls, some like boys. Some love God, others hate him. It is all the same because man is a bundle of desires and each man strives to satisfy the desires that he has. Society’s only task is to preside over the striving with impartial neutrality so that we all live together in peace.”
Homosexual “marriage”, Fr. Canavan predicted, would come to seem a right. And now we see this claim even among some who have bought into this paradigm of the satisfaction of desires over the fulfillment of nature as God created it.
Fun is not Enough also provides insights from the professor’s years of research into political philosophy, such as the startling fact that the Greeks up to the 4th century gave fathers the right to reject a born baby, which was often put into a pot and exposed in a public place to die if not rescued by someone.
But if Fun Is Not Enough is so negative, why read it? I would say, first of all, because you need a clear diagnosis before you can appreciate the cure. Every article shows that the cure is the truths of Catholic philosophy and magisterial theology. No matter how destructive the falsehoods of our time, we need to cling to the Word made Flesh, the “truth that sets us free.” As Fr. Canavan wrote:
The deepest and most important love is love of God, our Creator and Savior. We may have been taught about God and grown up believing in him. The Bible teaches us to fear God, and indeed we should or we shall think of ourselves as gods and goddesses. But it is essential to arrive at a belief in God that is a growing love for and trust in him as Absolute Truth, Absolute Beauty, and Absolute Good, to be with whom is the goal and purpose of our life in this world.
With such a goal in mind, surely “fun is not enough.” However, in a time when the erroneous thinking within the Church has become even worse than when Fr. Canavan wrote his articles for Catholic Eye, intellectual Catholics need more than ever to be able to understand the roots of such errors. And a good way to learn and understand more deeply is to read Fun Is Not Enough—and then pass it along to others.
Fun Is Not Enough: The Complete Catholic Eye Columns
by Francis Canavan, S.J., edited by Dawn Eden Goldstein
The National Committee of Catholic Laymen, Inc. (New York); distributed by En Route Books and Media, 2017
Paperback, 432 pages