Re “Christian Complicity” (6/17): Stephen Bullivant has a very interesting point about our complicity in alienating unbelievers, but the problem is much deeper. The whole church, top down, needs to see faith as a transforming journey through life and see all the challenges we face as opportunities to follow the example of Jesus. Jesus didn’t evangelize by defining doctrines; he lived a life of love, compassion and mercy toward the least in his society.
If we Christians worked on transforming ourselves and our communities to opt for the poor and broken among us, I guarantee the unbelievers would see this Godliness and be drawn to explore it.
Faith and Science
The photo accompanying “Christian Complicity” shows a young man wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Atheists: In Science We Trust.” My response as a Christian: “I also trust in science. But science does not have all the answers.” Science cannot explain why we are here on earth or what our final destiny might be. Science cannot provide a basis for moral or ethical behavior.
Stephen Bullivant is correct in cautioning Christians not to use the Bible as science; but unlike him, I am more concerned with the mockery of religion by atheists. Modern media—movies, television, music—use every opportunity to belittle those who hold religious beliefs of any kind.
Know Your Limits
In “The Land of the Gerasenes” (5/27), James Martin, S.J., asks, “What is the best way to deal with emotionally unstable people?”
Know your limits. Know what you can handle and when to say “enough” and step back. Know your limits as a clinician. Know you will occasionally get the F-bomb, no matter how hard you try to help. Know that you don’t know all there is to know about that person in front of you. Take time to listen, and then do whatever you can to make a referral to someone who can help that person and be willing to follow up.
Ultimately though, the times I really helped someone were the times I got out of the driver’s seat and let God work through me. Often, after the fact, I don’t even remember what it was that I said that was so helpful—a great ego-deflator and a great way to live one’s priesthood.
Chippewa Falls, Wis.
Worse Than Death
Re “Life, Not Death” (Editorial, 5/20): I am no believer in the death penalty but rather a kind of “devil’s advocate,” trying for many years to stimulate the neglected but critical other half of the issue: What is the alternative?
“Life without parole” is the usual answer, especially for serious cases. The authors quote Pope John Paul II saying that punishment should offer the offender “an incentive and help to change his or her behavior and be rehabilitated.” What incentive remains for those serving life without parole? Where is the “hope” that is so essential to human dignity? Can we ignore the question of whether there are things worse than death? In “The Bad Thief” (Am. 12/6/04), Jens Soering wrote, “But we lifers, we are the dead. Our executions may be stretched out over four or five decades, but in the end, life without parole produces exactly the same result as lethal injection: 127,677 human beings killed by their government.”
A possible Band-Aid to the dilemma could be abolishing both the death penalty and life imprisonment. This has been done by Mexico and other countries. Maximum sentences of about 30 years would restore that element of hope and (hopefully) some chance of rehabilitation.
I am writing to express my surprise and sadness after reading, “The Divided Kingdom,” by James Hanvey, S.J. (5/20). One does not have to embrace Margaret Thatcher’s political and economic philosophies in order to recognize that she had a remarkable career as a public servant and important national leader of the free world. Father Hanvey clearly had difficulty with that recognition and allowed his unbridled contempt for her political achievements to run throughout his article.
Your readers have come to expect the highest standards of professional judgment and Christian sentiment by your editors and contributors. They also expect at least a modicum of restraint against criticizing an honored and honorable person who can no longer defend herself. You have done a clear disservice by attacking the legacy of a (three-time) democratically elected leader who so recently passed away.
Elk Grove, Calif.
Re “Just Economics” (5/6): One way to respond to Stacie Beck’s critique of “wealth redistribution” is to look at different economic systems. An economic system is the way a society distributes its resources to its citizens. In our present system of corporate capitalism we channel rewards (profit) to those who have invested money and pay those who invest labor as little as possible.
A possible alternative to this system is the co-operative model in which workers are owners and reap the profits of the business. This model accounts for the prosperity of some third-world countries. The micro-loan system works on a co-operative model.
Neither “Just Economics” nor the letters in reply (State of the Question, 6/17) deal with two fundamental theological issues.
Number one: What constitutes a moral claim to wealth? Our society tends to equate a legal acquisition with a moral claim. Is that theologically defensible? Should the wealth be going to those making a positive contribution to society or to those skilled at acquisition? Are the rich acquiring more wealth not because they are contributing more but because they largely control the distribution?
Number two: How about a theology of ownership? Jesus said, “Woe to you rich!” Is the possession of great wealth in itself an evil? Or is there an obligation of stewardship that goes along with possession of wealth? Might taxation be used as a means of encouraging that stewardship?
Let’s have a serious discussion of these issues.
Re “Of Many Things,” by Matt Malone, S.J. (4/22): The discourse on gay and lesbian Catholics seems stuck on the way some men and women in the church are in relationship with one another. But as baptized Catholics, whether homosexual or heterosexual, our way of being in relationship is first of all with God, and consequently with others. We all share a core identity as baptized men and women of God. This inviolable identity must be the starting point of every real conversation in the church with respect to anyone who is “not just like us.” We can no longer afford the unholy camps we have created for ourselves.
Our real pastoral stance must be an insistence that every baptized man and woman live richly and rightly in the power of their anointing. Pastorally we must defend a space for everyone to grow to full stature in Christ, engaging the unique gifts and characteristics of each one’s authentic personhood. Each of us has been anointed to stand in the place of the risen Lord himself. Let’s fix our attention on who we are: the body of Christ for this world today. God has urgent work to accomplish through each one of us.
In “Christian Complicity” (6/17), Stephen Bullivant asked whether Christians are partly responsible for the mockery of their own beliefs. You responded:
Yes, we are complicit! The “higher” Christianity of a few generations ago gave rise to a “higher,” more sophisticated and thoughtful atheism. The low, anti-intellectual, uninformed religious climate in this country has given rise to a low, uninformed, mocking atheism. We seriously need to catechize better, increase religious literacy and increase understanding of what we do and why we do it. Apologetics classes wouldn’t hurt.
Wow! If that wasn’t a Catholic guilt trip par excellence, I don’t know what else is. The author states, “If caricatures of Christianity are prevalent and seem plausible, then Christians themselves are surely partly to blame.” Really? O.K., let’s replace “Christians” with “African Americans,” “Latinos” or “homosexuals.” See what I mean?
Believers and nonbelievers routinely and maddeningly argue at cross-purposes. It is foolish to reject what empirical science tells us of how the world works; its answers represent the evidence of our own (extended) senses, which believers themselves concede are God-given gifts. Yet science can only explain how. It never asks the “Great Why,” nor does it express any interest in the question. There should be no encroachment by either camp on the domain of the other.
Keith H. Peterson
Gross generalization and refusal to perceive nuance are problems that go both ways. For instance, it’s easy to read the signs held by Westboro Baptist picketers and map that garbage onto all Christians. By the same token, the absurdly simplified “arguments” of a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens surely don’t stand for all those of no faith. Reasoned argumentation must spring from engagement with specific concepts or at least abstract ideals, not cherry-picked examples of the worst offenders from either side.