Current Comment

Fewer Puffs

The number of Americans who smoke cigarettes has been declining over the last 40 years, which adds up to a major achievement in preventive health. Fewer young people are taking up the habit and more adults have quit. A report published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that three million fewer Americans smoked in 2010 than in 2005—that is more than the entire population of Chicago. And while heavy smokers (30 or more cigarettes a day) keep puffing, their number has declined significantly. But the C.D.C. issued a note of caution concerning the rate of decline among smokers, which has slowed. Unless the rate speeds up again, the country will fall short of the C.D.C.’s national goal of no more than 12 percent of adults smoking by 2020.

Can legislation help reduce smoking? Consider this: In the eight years since New York City banned smoking in bars, restaurants and the workplace, the number of adult smokers has fallen by 22 percent; that is 450,000 fewer smokers. The drop is more impressive among young adults between 18 and 24, a group particularly affected by the city’s tax hike on cigarettes and its anti-smoking advertising campaigns. States have also had success. Utah has the lowest smoking rate in the nation (9.1 percent); California (12.1 percent) is in second place. Some point to the price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City, $11.20, as the reason for the declining number of smokers. But a pack costs just $7.22 in Utah, and $5.19 in California. What all three places have in common is a statewide ban on smoking in public places. The law can help reduce smoking.


Catechesis or Theology?

Will there be a stand-off between bishops and theologians on the role of theology in Catholic higher education as we mark the 20th anniversary of “Ex Corde Ecclesiae”? (See the articles by Michael G. Lawler and Todd A. Salzman, 9/12, and by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, 9/26.) We hope not. Both have a case to make, and an intelligent way forward needs to be found. Students need to know the fundamentals of the faith to be able to treat theological issues critically; and not just theology but Catholicism itself will not be respected within the university if it lacks intellectual depth. A way must be found to achieve both goals: catechesis and theology. In many Catholic colleges, however, there is simply not enough space in curricula both to lay the groundwork in Catholic tradition and to study theology with suitable seriousness. Often no more than two theology courses are required.

For college-level theology to achieve its twin goals, it simply needs more space in the curriculum. Traditionally, some of that curricular space was given to philosophy. But that was before career-training put such pressures on liberal education. It was also a time when philosophy had an apologetic role in Catholic intellectual life and played a greater part in theological reasoning. Catholic students might acquire greater theological literacy if one additional required course was opened up for theology or, in some cases, switched from philosophy to theology. But administrators will have to take the lead in opening up the curriculum. Bishops should not expect theologians to lead the change from their small corner of the faculty; neither can other departments be expected to give ground without a fight. A Catholic education in Catholic institutions must depend on leadership from the top, from deans, provosts and presidents.

Switch and Bait

“Corn sugar” may soon be showing up in the list of ingredients in fine print on the label of your favorite soft drink, “healthy” fruit-like snack, cereal box and thousands of other food products. This sweetener is better known by its previous moniker: high-fructose corn syrup. Since the late 1970s high-fructose corn syrup has been replacing sugar as the sweetener of choice for profit-minded food conglomerates. But in recent years, corn syrup has begun to get a bad name. Some nutritionists and scientists believe corn syrup has contributed to the nation’s diabetes and obesity epidemics; and many consumers, alarmed by this association, have begun to seek out products that use real sugar, not the syrup. Hence the desire of corn refiners to replace the term H.F.C.S. with “corn sugar.”

The Corn Refiners Association—among its members are the powerful conglomerates Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill—has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration for the name change. It claims the rebranding should resolve consumer confusion regarding corn syrup. In fact consumer confusion is precisely what the corn industry seeks. Few consumers aware of the dangers of a diet too rich in H.F.C.S. are confused at all; they know they do not want it in their food.

A final determination has not been made, but the F.D.A. should dismiss this disingenuous appeal. The nation has had a hard enough time confronting the alarming health problems emerging out of the “normal” American diet. Disguising one of the prime suspects in the crisis behind a new identity will further frustrate efforts to help Americans eat better, stay healthier and live longer.

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Norman Costa
7 years ago
On the power of addiction to cigarettes:

My older daughter spent her senior year of high school as an exchange student in Brazil. She spoke about the impoverished single, teen aged mothers who scaveged the garbage dumps for recyclable trash. Children were in hand or in a sling and nursing on the breast. 

Beginning at sun up, and after collecting enough enough for a bit of cash, the first thing these mothers did - even before they bought milk and food for thier children - was to buy a pack of cigarettes.
Mike Evans
7 years ago
While quick to condemn, be careful you are not judging folk on their one small pleasure of an otherwise miserable existence. I was a 49 yr smoker, mostly 2 to 3 packs a day. Under a dire threat from my cardiologist I managed to quit. Hardest thing I ever did and the crave still arises and nags at me. Yes addiction was in play and yes I was in denial about the consequences. But think about the small pleasures that ease our existence: a cup of coffee or tea, a beer or glass of wine, a once in a while juicy burger and piece of chocolate, and for those who can afford and acquire them. a Cuban cigar. Life is more than ascetics; it is also some small happinesses that relieve the tedium and soothe the pain. Give the ladies a break.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years ago
America provides very interesting numbers on a far greater killer of American citizens than our warfare, the legal, federally subsidized thru grants to tobacco farmers, popular poison, cigarettes. 
New York's smoking ban in restaurants and other places likely has the larger effect, yet the high price of cigarettes would almost certainly have an impact on reducing tobacco consumption (although 11 bucks for cigarettes in NY might equate to 5 bucks in Utah, based on my visits there). Still, the salaries and COL in New York is so high that it might favor only the lower income earners of the city with its deterrent effect than the upper third or so. If so, this is a relatively rare instance of a greater health benefit for the poor built into tax system. 
It's not hard to speculate why Utah has such low smoking rates, likely the same reason it has such comparatively low unemployment rates: a God-centered, family orientation with an emphasis on self-discipline and healthy living. Not a lot of mojitos being downed there either. Of course that would not hold much water for California. While the consumption of cigarettes has come down and is quite low in the state, I understand that smoking joints in the golden state is high and rocketing. As luminaries as diverse as Bill Buckley and Milton Friedman on the one hand and Bill Maher and Abbie Hoffman on the other have favored legalizing pot, will this likely result in the reduction of tobacco usage? Are there any studies showing such a correlation in California?
Norman Costa
7 years ago
Yes, I am condemning and judging. I am not judging the children who are bearing children. The ignominy I detest resides in the black hearts and foul brains of the executives of the tobacco industry. They intentionally hook billions of people to feed their own craving for money and the power of life and death over their fellow human beings.

It breaks my heart to relate this story, as it did for my daughter. What I was describing is a prima facie case of a crime against humanity.
Charles Erlinger
7 years ago
Here's an idea related to the catechesis and theology issue in Catholic colleges and universities.  Introduce Christian and Catholic classics into the required reading lists of appropriate literature, history, political science, economics, etc. courses.  There are plenty of classics available, and those in ancient classical languages are available in good modern English translations.  Actually they have very legitimate places in such courses.  In addition, make distinguished visiting lecturers available to the students in settings that invite discussion of these classics and their application to modern issues.
Norman Costa
7 years ago
@ CR:

How about a teaser list of the canon. 
Mark Andrews
7 years ago
Regarding the tension between catechesis and theology, a theologian who cannot do and does not do catechesis is like a medical doctor who cannot perform first aid (facetiously, doctors who can't do first aid tend to be radiologists & psychiatrists, but I digress).

In the patristic era this circle was squared by practicing pastors, bishops & presbyters, doing the teaching. They were catechists first, and their theological speculation arose out of their pastoral care & catechetical instruction. By contrast, in modernity, some theologians see themselves as academics first, removed from pastoral care & catechesis at the parish level.

Why do theologians absent themselves from parish life? Because interaction with the average Catholic layperson, parish priest or staff member is stifling? Because they fear interaction with the local Catholic hierarchy? My perception - subject to correction of course - is that professional theologians can't be bothered with parish life. This impoverishes parishes, the members of parishes, and theologians alike.

Perhaps the perceived distance between theologians and the bishops is best bridged at the parish level, and not only at the level of competing, hierarchic social structures - academic & ecclesial - each jealous of their prerogatives.
Charles Erlinger
7 years ago
Mr. Costa,

I'll work on it.  I have several in mind but want to check the exact titles and editions.
Charles Erlinger
7 years ago
Mr. Costa,

I'm almost sorry I volunteered to do this, but I hope others will jump in and suggest required readings in the context of my original suggestion. 

But for a start, I'm assuming that Catholic colleges and universities have core curricula that undergrads take regardless of major, and that this core contains scriptural studies.  I say this so that objections don't arise that you can't have a required reading list that incorporates thinkers on theological matters in subject areas such as literature, history, etc. without first referencing scripture.

Here's a meager start on the list:

Origen: Selected Writings; Origen: An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer, and Selected Works (includes an excerpt from "On First Principles").
St. Augustine of Hippo: The City of God and The Problem of Free Choice.
Various writings of Sts. Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure.
St. Thomas More: Utopia.
Milton and Dante.
John Donne and Blake.
Cardinal Newman; The Idea of a University among many other writings.
Rahner and Teilhard.

And on and on. 
7 years ago
It would indeed be wonderful if theology students first took at least a semester in philosophy: logic, epistemology, anthropology, metaphysics... and then began theology with a quick reading of the whole bible, all 73 books of it.

Unless you can discuss BEING and what human beings are, how we know what we know, how our minds (and bodies, within our nature) operate.... it is very easy for charlatans to come along with theological novelties that SOUND good but simply don't make any sense.

For example, it's so common for some theologian to propose a novel intrepretation to some text of scripture....or some developed doctrine, but fail to define his (or her) terms, who uses equivocal definitions or various other rhetorical devices which can deceive the unwary. Most of what passes for theologic heresy is in fact simply bad philosophy. Take Arianism... it's not "theology", it's a metaphysical presupposition about Being and nature. the limits of creatures vs. the power of the creator.

If one's metaphysics posits that the Incarnation is impossible (as Arius did and as Muslims and Jews do...) then their reading of scripture will necessarily lean towards interpretations that point to Jesus as "merely" a man or at most a super-creature but creature nevertheless.

Once this happens all the proof texting in the world won't settle the argument because it was never based on theology in the first place!

Which is why.... Summa contra gentiles.... you have to argue based on the ground rules of your opponent, on what both parties may agree to as 'true'.

If Protestants refuse to accept apostolic succession and magisterial teaching authority, then you have to win their hearts with 'scripture alone' and the evident power of holiness.

If Marxists insist that all is economic materialism then you have to show them the folly of their ways from the evidence of economics and history...

But until you can discover common ground... you can't dialogue or debate. And that this is hard for many modern "theologians" to understand tells me that they didn't pay much attention in the few classes or courses of philosophy that they ought to have had.

C Walter Mattingly
7 years ago
Wow. We're actually back to E.D. Hirsch and the Columbia Great Books program. St. Johns will be happy.
Good points all. On one side we have questions on God and soul, and the other we have Peter Singer, the prominent bioethicist at Princeton, taking President Obama's antiexceptionalism idea far further down the road in claiming that Homo Sapiens in no more nor less than a species of Great Apes, and that though abortion is certainly killing of a person, that person has about the same rights as a chicken or a manatee, and therefore parents should have up to one month after the birth of their child to determine whether or not he/she is a keeper. This ethical system may work out well for chickens, but it's gonna be hard on humans. 
C Walter Mattingly
7 years ago
Don't forget the role of the farmer producing the tobacco and the government subsidizing its production. Here in Florida, we take the tobacco tax money and provide educational support and college scholarships with it. Not only do we abort our kids, but we addict the surviving ones with a poison, take their money to "subsidize" their education, and provide them with a horrific suffocating death later in life. 
Now we are going to add marijuana, which our citizens take for its "health benefits," to this list. It too will generate great tax revenue. It too will make corporations, farmers, and revenue-hungry government very happy.
Jonathan Swift did not write science fiction. 
Norman Costa
7 years ago
@ CR:

Your short list overlaps with Harold Bloom's, "The Western Canon." I suppose that says something positive. As with Walter, it's hard to get away from the idea of the great books. It was always a great idea.

I disagree with John's approach of prescribing the 'proper' sequence for the development of correctly formed thought. The human mind is not a syllogism processer. It is far more associative than logical, and it is far more adaptive. Studying logic has its own rewards and applications, but it is far from being a royal road to truth, insight, and creativity. 

Such a view of human learning and thinking produces the artificial limitations that John puts on dialogue and discussion. His conclusion is that real give-and-take is impossible without their conversion, since the other side is missing a piece of the puzzle. Such an attitude forgoes an attempt to put oneself in the mindset of the other to understand how they believe or think as they do. It also precludes learning from the other.

6 years 12 months ago
Where do you get your information? You and the public have been duped into thinking that cane sugar is better for you than high-fructose corn syrup. This is not true, both are equally bad for you. Sugar is sugar!


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