“Getting to Work,” by Patricia Ranft (2/18), does a good job puncturing the hoary myth that labor is punishment for expulsion from biblical paradise—the wages of sin. Professor Ranft is convincing in laying out “the theology of work” but less so in applying it to public policy. Legislated programs for the poor do not necessarily equate to “an entitlement society,” any more than “the 47 percent” all sponge on the rest of us or, more pointedly, the upper 1 or 2 percent.
Professor Ranft is not at all clear as to what programs constitute her “entitlement society,” although she seems to suggest that social security is a prime example. Varieties of work preclude any hard and fast conclusions about when to leave one’s vocation. Fiscal palliatives tend to shift societal costs without eliminating them—facts obscured in ordinary political discourse. But retirees who have paid into the Social Security system throughout their working lives are, indeed, “entitled” to a return on that investment. Demo-graphics dictate adjustments over time. Insurance costs for unemployment forestall other societal costs.
“Material support alone does not bring happiness,” writes Professor Ranft. No argument. But let’s be clear about the actions of government that separate “workforce participation from material support.” “Entitlement” is a loaded word in politics and should be examined for its accuracy before being used. It can be employed to skip over questions like who pays, who paid and what other costs are avoided.
Having spent a lengthy career in the field of teacher education, I was immediately interested in “All Hands on Desks,” by Thomas J. Healey, John Eriksen and B. J. Cassin (2/4), about the serious problems in the management of Catholic schools today. In proposing improvements, including school financing, we do not want to lose sight of the invaluable service to the church that Catholic schools have provided historically and even today.
Absent the contributed services of many consecrated religious, which were available in the past, teacher salaries are responsible for a significant segment of the financial plight of Catholic schools today. I visualize a program, suggested in part by Teach for America and the Alliance for Catholic Education program at Notre Dame, designed to provide teachers for schools in depressed locations. What about annually recruiting a cadre of high-achieving Catholic graduates of private and public colleges with state teacher certification to teach for two years in Catholic schools at a significantly reduced salary?
While some Catholic college graduates are going abroad today as short-term lay missionaries, some newly minted Catholic teachers could make an important contribution to the church in the United States, reviving a tradition of service to Catholic schools while personally gaining valuable experience for their continuing careers in teaching.
New York, N.Y.
“By the Book,” by Ronald D. Witherup, S.S. (2/4), correctly emphasizes how important Bible study is, or should be, for Catholics. But some attention should also be given to the ecumenical dimensions of the subject.
In the retirement community where I live, I have been attending a weekly Bible study led by the pastor of a nearby Presbyterian church. As a participant, I jokingly refer to myself as the “token papist” in the group. The materials provided are Protestant, but I of course use my own Bible.
There have been some conflicts over doctrine, especially the role of the Virgin Mary in the mystery of salvation, but I welcome the opportunity to explain such an important part of my faith. Further discussions have led to greater mutual understanding of central teachings, like the consequences of original sin.
Studying the Bible with non-Catholics requires prudence and patience as well as fidelity to Catholic principles of exegesis. But I have not felt “enticed” into a spiritually dangerous experience. Quite the contrary. The “Decree on Ecumenism” of Vatican II calls for unity among Christians and advises us to try to understand the outlook of those who are not Catholic. Studying the Bible together furthers those objectives.
Church and Climate
Re “Hot Air,” by Kyle Kramer (1/21): The Carbon Crunch, by Dieter Helm, does not address solutions for global climate change but merely reinforces the false options put before us by the coal, oil and gas industries. Mr. Helm blames climate change primarily on the burning of coal in Asia, which he sees as inescapable. He advocates coal’s replacement with hydrofracked methane gas. He sees no hope that renewable sources of electricity can meet energy demands. He criticizes international attempts to reduce carbon usage and to develop efficiency in energy use.
I am surprised that Mr. Kramer fails to mention how the Catholic teaching of Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. bishops on climate change, energy and international cooperation contradicts the statements by Mr. Helm. Warning of the effects of climate change upon future generations and the poor, the church has called upon industrialized nations to develop renewable energy and sustainable economies. The church highlights our moral duty to pursue this course and urges the involvement of international organizations to attain this goal.
Even Mr. Helm’s solution to climate change—a carbon tax—has been supported by ExxonMobil. This is because if only carbon is counted, methane emissions from hydrofracking can continue uncontrolled. In the meantime, the coal industry will maintain its profits by shipping its product to Asia. The fossil fuel companies will then make massive profits at the expense of God’s earth.
I hope that America will soon review a book on how renewable energy and sustainable communities dovetail with the church’s social teachings.