James Ross should be commended for placing a spotlight on prison abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Bush, Torture, and Lincoln’s Legacy (8/15). But he loses credibility when he extols our 16th president as a model of restraint and humanistic principles. Has he never heard of Sherman? Of Lincoln’s abolishing of habeas corpus? His issuing of an arrest warrant for Chief Justice Roger B. Taney (after the 84-year-old judge decided that Congress, but not the president, can suspend habeas corpus)? His instituting of the draft (followed by draft riots)? His jailing of tens of thousands of dissenters without due process for reasons of criticizing the Lincoln administration (including the mayor of Baltimore, a Maryland congressman, an Ohio congressman and scores of newspaper editors)? His belief in the inherent inequality between the black and white races?
Leading Catholic thinkers of the time were very troubled by the precedents set by Lincoln. Since then, whatever constitutional safeguards remain reflecting restraint and humanistic principles in government have been trampled to such an extent that presidents can no longer be bothered with requests for declarations of war. Today, the military serves as the sitting president’s private army, while actions taken in places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib are justified with the same logic that Lincoln used to circumvent constitutional (and moral) constraints of his day. The military doctrine of Shock and Awe has 19th-century roots.
A frank discussion of the restraint and humanistic principles of U.S. presidents would be fascinating. Unfortunately, I am still waiting to see one.
What a treasure of inspiration was the July 4-11 issue of America.
I rejoiced, deeply moved, reading this great article by James Youniss. Born in Germany during World War II, my three sisters and I survived hungry and homeless childhood years and don’t have to see the scarred condition of churches and landmarks, left unrepaired, to remind us of the horrors of World War II. Although I was only 5 years old at the end of the war, the occasional nightmares remind me of still very painful scars.
German-American since 1967, I do not hesitate to take pride openly in Germany’s postwar achievements.
Thank you, James Youniss, for seeing and knowing Christianity in Germany! And thanks to Dennis M. Linehan, S.J., for the Magis 2005 article.
Yes, this is a great moment for the church and especially the church in Germany.
Forced to Ignore
Over the years that I have subscribed to America, your essays on ecclesiology, liturgy and sacraments have been both interesting and inspirational; they were particularly helpful to me when I was working on my graduate program in theology. Your church news, Signs of the Times, is always interesting. I also have to compliment you on your weekly commentary on the readings of the Sunday Liturgy of the Word.
Unfortunately, however, I have been forced during the last couple of years to ignore completely your political essays and editorials. They are so politically biased as to be meaningless. It seems that everything you folks say conveys a message that America is always wrong and President Bush should always be detested.
A couple of months ago, you published an essay praising Germany as a more Christian nation because of its social welfare policies, implying that the United States is not so Christian because we have millions of people without health insurance. What the essay-writer did not mention was Germany’s double-digit unemployment, rampant inflation, immigration unrest and the fact that Chancellor Schroeder is expected to be thrown out of office in the next election.
In the issue dated Aug. 15-22, you published an essay by James Ross of Human Rights Watch entitled Bush, Torture and Lincoln’s Legacy in which he castigates President Bush for Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, his policies that endanger U.S. soldiers and harm America’s long-term foreign policy interests and that he does not imitate Abraham Lincoln’s restraint and humanistic principles. In other words, George W. Bush is evil incarnate.
In his book The Church Confronts Modernity, Thomas Woods mentions that America was founded early in the 20th century in response to Pius X’s call to restore all things in Christ and that it would cover news in the church and in the world at large for a Catholic audience, always with the good of Church and country in mind.
Now that you have a new editor in chief, this might be a good time to reorient your editorial position. Your current imitation of MoveOn.org does not serve you well. Perhaps you might want to take a cue from Fox News: try Fair and Balanced. You might find it intellectually refreshing.
St. Augustine, Fla.
Please tell George Anderson, S.J., (Of Many Things, 7/18) to reconsider his inference, when he sees waiting drivers’ eyes start to narrow, that a stoplight is about to change. It could be they are just nearsighted and he is courting disaster. America cannot afford to lose another great voice. Ditto for attempting dialogue with the drivers through the use of hand signals.
Michael K. Marran
Right to Earn
I applaud your strong editorial on labor (8/29). However, the underpinning of the labor laws is the need and right of families to earn enough to feed themselves and their children. As long as there are jobs that will not pay a man’s wage, there will be desperate people sending their hungry children to work. And sometimes, the children are so under-cared for that they must fend for themselves. In some cases, both parents are away working, and still they cannot make enough to cover the basics for their families. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least some of the violations in Wal-Mart’s hiring practices occur because they are trying to provide jobs for needy kids. We need better family-centered laws.
We need treaties that impress upon multinational corporations and big companies that the basic human needs of the population from which they are getting workers must be addressed in their work policies. The treaties often set the bar for the national companies in places where widespread exploitation is taking place.
Martina Nicholson, M.D.
Santa Cruz, Calif.
I appreciated the article by John O. Mudd, From C.E.O. to Mission Leader (7/18). I am a Catholic nurse with 43 years’ hospital experience in Catholic health care, the military and district health care systems.
I believe that the Catholic voice is almost lost. The bottom line in our Catholic health care system is financial productivity, and that appears also to have become the measure for true success. We care about the opportunity index but have forgotten the faces of the poor and the ill. We have lost our focus on mission when we do not support and encourage our dedicated medical and supportive staff. The religious who started these wonderful, caring systems are all but forgotten. Jesus has become lost in the dollars. I agree with John O. Mudd when he says, Time is not on our side. The mission of the Catholic health care system must start from within. The problem is that the ability to accomplish a true Catholic mission is becoming nonexistent within the current framework.
Judith A Sullivan
Redwood City, Calif.
How refreshing to be reminded of the Catholic Church’s position on labor (8/29). When comparing it to Jesus’ words, it leaves little room for argument. If we heard our leaders proclaim this as loudly as our stands on other issues, Catholics might do something far more fruitful than electing one-issue simpletons to run our government.
Richard M. Snyder
In his letter to the editors (8/29), Roger Haight, S.J., writes that he is working on a systematic ecclesiology that will address the kinds of theological questions raised in my review of his Christian Community in History, Vol.2: Comparative Ecclesiology (8/1). It is unfortunate that this book and its predecessor were much less clear about his intention.
Father Haight’s letter says, the two-volume work C.C.H. [Christian Community in History] was itself the first part of a two-part ecclesiology from below that I hope will be followed by a more systematic and constructive essay. That sentence is clear about his future plans, but it is not what he wrote in Historical Ecclesiology. His original sentence instead reads, Historical Ecclesiology is the first part of a two-part ecclesiology from below which I hope will be followed by a more systematic and constructive essay. Haight’s letter thus changes his definition of the first part of his ecclesiology from Historical Ecclesiology to the entire Christian Community in History; this shift decisively alters his meaning. Moreover, the original sentence is ambiguous about whether Comparative Ecclesiology or a projected third volume is the promised systematic and constructive essay. In 1,000 pages, Haight nowhere else makes clear reference to his intent to write a third, systematic volume, not even where one would most logically expect it: at the end of Comparative Ecclesiology. That book ends merely with a subjunctive, not indicative, statement, A fitting conclusion to this work would be a more fulsome development of a constructive ecclesiology.... It is unclear why he did not simply state there or elsewhere that a third volume was in preparation.
More important, the confusing language of Haight’s letter, like that of his two volumes, flows from his flawed conception of the relationship between historical-comparative theology and systematic theology. His letter claims that my systematic concerns are inapplicable to his historical ecclesiology. Yet his historical method already contains significant systematic components. In his introduction to Historical Ecclesiology, he writes that each chapter will conclude by formulat[ing] a set of principles or axioms or distinctions.... These are depicted as ecclesiological constants that illumine the church across history. The constructive intention is to gather a certain number of formal theological and ecclesiological principles that will be useful for understanding the church at any given time and place. I think that such an entwining of historical and systematic theology is unavoidable and desirable. Haight, however, should be more up front about the constructive entwining already at work in his books, rather than pretend to a historical ecclesiology unencumbered by such systematic commitments.
St. Paul, Minn.
On the Index?
In a recent review in America of two books on Pope Benedict XVI, the Rev. John Jay Hughes wrote: Both of these new books manifest signs of the haste in which they were put together...neither has an index (8/15).
This statement reminded me of a literary annoyance that seems to be increasing: the failure of nonfiction works to have indices. It was always the rule for me, since I first learned to read, that nonfiction books generally had indices. It seems that in recent years more and more works of nonfiction do not have one. In this era of computers, attributing the lack of an index to haste seems an invalid excuse for eliminating a valuable and indeed necessary research tool. And since when was haste ever an excuse for not doing a good job? It is the literary equivalent of eliminating the hole in the donutto wit, there is no sane reason to do so. I cannot fathom an economic reason for doing so either.
This is downright annoying even to the casual reader; it must be a menace to the student or person needing the work for research and other professional tasks. What’s next? The title page?
Dennis C. McMahon