John A. Coleman, S.J., is rightly concerned by a theory of civil law that is excessively entangled with theological doctrine (Religious Liberty, 11/28). The official Catholic position on the numerous moral issues to which he refers certainly is theological doctrine. But it is also the objective teaching of human, moral reasoning. If not based on such reason, civil law runs the risk of a tyrannical positivism with no determining criterion other than the wish of the most powerful (which is not necessarily the majority).
Furthermore, if objective moral reasoning is not to be the content of civil law (in matters, of course, which evoke morality), then what else is to replace it? Legislating immorality or amorality seems to be, as experience proves, the only alternative. There is no moral neutrality. While that might save us from distasteful theories of too much God in civil law, it might well lead to irrational or nonrational law and to a society that follows suit. The fact that a society is open to God does not mean it is bereft of reason. Indeed, the opposite is more likely.
(Msgr.) Peter Magee
After reading Gene Gagnon’s letter (11/28) claiming America is conservative and has ceased to be relevant, I found The Council at 40, by Gerald O’Collins, S.J., (12/5) tending to confirm Gagnon’s view. Father O’Collins could have written his article 10 years ago, for all the timeliness that it contains. America frequently has articles that tend to be well crafted but above the fray when commitment is called for. Perhaps it is a philosophia perennis attitude, when a more existential, here-and-now one, is called for.
Next came Joy and Hope, Grief and Anguish, by David Hollenbach, S.J. (12/5). No timelessness here. Hollenbach calls it as he sees it. There is grief in our hearts over what has happened to the promise of the council. Hope is languishing; there is sorrow over unfulfilled promise. His recounting of what happened in November 2002, when the U.S. government was preparing for war and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had as its spokesman on the issue none other than Cardinal Bernard Law, highlights the loss of credibility of the present U.S. hierarchy.
Perhaps to be more relevant America could change its stripes somewhat without giving up its soul. How about a less Aristotelian/Thomistic approach, which tends to float above the scenethe on the one hand, but on the other approach?
Theologically speaking, if you were to emphasize a biblical approach with the usual Jesuit depth, it would bring to the forefront Jesus and his here-and-now way of dealing with problems.
There could be nothing more relevant for a Jesuit magazine to be doing than trumpeting Jesus’ positions on social justice, poverty, peace and the reign of God, in his own words.
John J. Hollohan
Your magazine has been losing its edge, and this has made me very sad. For many years as a subscriber, I have always looked to America as a magazine that presented honest, bold dialogue on many issues facing our church as well as overall society. However, my spirits were slightly elevated upon reading the excellent articles in your Dec. 5 issue, which dealt with Vatican II: The Council at 40, by Gerald O’Collins, S.J., and Joy and Hope, Grief and Anguish, by David Hollenbach, S.J. Both articles provided clear assessments of what this great council accomplished as well as examples of the events/style of leadership over the years that have stymied the great potential of these documents. Please keep these types of articles coming back!
I would hope that America could write about the chasm between broad-spectrum encyclical Catholicism and born-againism. The letter from George Stapleton on evangelism of presence (11/28) prompted me to reflect on the divergence between those who believe in sola fide/sola scriptura and those who read Scripture and subscribe to the concept that faith without works has a more complex, yet profound understanding concerning our salvation.
Faith is the debatable crucible. Those who subscribe to the concept of literal faith in Jesus Christ find it syncretic to agree that there is any salvation outside a personal acceptance of Jesus Christ. Broad-spectrum encyclical Catholics believe that faith and works are integrally related, and as long as there is no direct denial of Jesus Christ, salvation is available to Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc. We do not accept the concept that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. When we say that the way to the Father is through Jesus, we believe that the Verbum Dei/verbum dei is not limited to a literal conception.
The Maryknoll way is the true ecumenical way; and, frankly, I hope more Catholics come to understand that neither neo-orthodox Catholics nor the born-againers have the exclusive answer to Who is saved?
Thomas M. Whaling
Laguna Hills, Calif.
I appreciate your magazine, but have found myself less interested, even frustrated with it in the past half year. The focus seems to have changed, particularly in the editorial and introductory essay.
I find myself reading about New York City, week after week, specifically your neighborhood.
I know that God can be found wherever we look as intimately part of our lives. I know that God lives there among you, but the magazine feels as if it should be now entitled Manhattan instead of America.
It just doesn’t connect well with my life, in a very different geography, population and atmosphere. I’m losing interest.
Please broaden your focus.