Of Many Things

We’re lucky at America. Our readers are smart, generous and kind. Your feedback is certainly welcome and almost always helpful. It’s also mainly positive; in fact, the good far outweighs the bad. Still, nary a week passes when we don’t receive a complaint about something we’ve published.

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t mind criticism; it’s often justified. One type of response, however, is neither helpful nor justified. From time to time someone will contact us to say something like this: “How could you publish so-and-so? Don’t you know that he/she is (take your pick here) a liberal/conservative and/or a restorationist/heretic?” The complainant, in other words, objects not to the author’s opinions per se, but to the author’s mere presence in these pages. That response is not only disappointing, it’s baffling. Call me naïve, but I cannot grasp why some Christians feel so threatened by opinions that differ from their own, especially when those opinions involve matters of prudential judgment rather than dogma. Our faith is in Christ who is truth; doesn’t Christian faith therefore require an open-minded intellectual disposition?

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Before I go any further, let me save someone some postage: No, America would not publish a manuscript by Hitler. Nor would we publish a manuscript that is manifestly unorthodox, heretical, uncivil, patently false or just plain unintelligible. The fact is, though, that we very rarely receive such manuscripts. Our authors may disagree, sometimes vigorously, but they represent positions within the broad spectrum of mainstream Catholic opinion.

The present issue is a case in point. It includes two authors, Stacie Beck and Eric Anglada, who describe very different approaches to economics and Catholic social teaching. If we had published an editorial about the subject, it would probably have involved yet a third perspective. But that’s what America does; in fact, it’s what we’ve always done. To wit, here is part of a column written in 1975 by Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J., then editor in chief:

As a journal of opinion, this review seeks, in each issue, not only to inform, but also to interpret. The interpretations—the opinions—of the editors can be found in the editorials, including those shorter “current comments.” The views in these unsigned statements reflect not so much a collective statement but rather the result of a collective process…that has emerged from the weekly editorial meeting. Along with these unsigned editorials, individual editors also write signed pieces: articles, columns, reviews. These represent the views of the individual….

The articles we choose to publish, on the other hand, may not represent the viewpoint of the editors either collectively or individually…. Finally, since the most sensitive opinions in each issue are expressed in the book reviews, it should be clear that the reviews do not represent the opinions of the editors.

Times have changed, of course. In addition to traditional letters to the editor, which were also plentiful in 1975, we now receive feedback by e-mail, blog posts, tweets and Facebook comments. (The new name for the Letters section, Reply All, reflects this.) But nearly 40 years on, Father O’Hare’s ground rules still hold: “A Catholic journal of opinion should be reasonably catholic in the opinions it is willing to consider,” he wrote. “Which is not to say that catholic means indiscriminate. It does mean, however, that we will publish views contrary to our own, as long as we think they deserve the attention of thoughtful Catholics.” In other words, if we’ve done our job right, then you should find something in every issue that challenges you. As always, we’d love to know what you think about it.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Cody Serra
4 years 7 months ago
Smart and generous readers have also views about what can help our understanding of socioeconomic issues, and what can, unintentionally, create controversy and weakening the understanding of our social justice values. The article on "economics" in this issue opened wide the doors for a controversy already alive and well among politicians in this country and in Europe. It fails to present a Christian interpretation of social justice. Perhaps, that is the objective: to offer a challenge to our conception of social justice and human dignity. It reminds me of a recent one from the Editors supporting the unrealistic deletion of the second Amendment of the Constitution.
Bruce Snowden
4 years 7 months ago
I like challenges! AMERICA is to be congratulated for offering intellectual stimulants to its subscribers. It's good to be able to knock around points of view fearlessly, accepting, rejecting, or uncertain in response. I like "Out of the Box" challenges, allowing heart and mind rounds of "High-5-ing"(is that how it's written?) issue by issue, tackling human and Divine realities, grasping oppotunity with Jesus, to "grow in wisdom and Grace." That's a plus!

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