Islam in Review
I was deeply troubled by Bill Williams’s review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Heretic (“At a Crossroads,” 10/19). Neither the book nor the review sheds light on Islam; rather, they play into Americans’ fears and misunderstandings. In calling for “Islamic reformation,” Ms. Ali cherry-picks Quranic verses and interprets them out of context, focuses solely on violent episodes and ignores the ordinary events that outnumber them, and treats real injustices—like honor killings—as “Islamic” problems, though they occur in non-Muslim contexts and have cultural or political causes. She neglects to mention that Islamic reform has been underway for centuries, birthing a range of interpretations.
I wish Mr. Williams had more deeply explored Ms. Ali’s work and positions. She has made unacceptable statements about Islam (Islam is “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death” that should be “defeated”). As a religious publication, America has a particular responsibility to provide quality information about other faith traditions, especially during a time when Muslims (like Catholics in earlier decades) face increased suspicion, prejudice and even discrimination.
Not Just Young Catholics
I am not sure that the problems described by Kaya Oakes (“Church-Shopping,” 10/19) are unique to young Catholics. I’m an older Catholic, but a new Catholic. I went through R.C.I.A. at my parish in Texas but then moved a year or so later. I attended the church near my house, and even though I went out of my way to introduce myself to people and attend adult religious education classes, I just was never able to “break in.” I really think it had a lot to do with the fact that although I am 50 years old, I was still much younger than most of the people; among the younger people, I didn’t have a kid in the school; and I’m single with no spouse. It’s really hard being a single, older Catholic, in my opinion.
Kaya Oakes’s article saddens me because it is completely understandable. In this day and age of 40-person choirs, hand-holding, 10-minute signs of peace and the sanctuary being treated like a stage, it is easy to forget why we are really there. Community is important, quality sermons are important, music is nice, but you should be able to go to any church and fulfill its true purpose: to actively and attentively sit at the foot of the cross.
I enjoyed reading “'Everyone’s Entitled to Dignity,’” the conversation between Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Matt Malone, S.J. (10/12). While I find Vice President Biden to be very heroic on many issues both in his professional and personal life, I was disappointed with his position on abortion. Mr. Biden says he accepts what the church says about abortion “as a matter of faith,” but he is not willing to impose that belief on “other God-fearing, non-God-fearing people.” This has to raise the question, when are beliefs worth defending?
In the 1850s there was a politician who did not hesitate to force his views on others who were God-fearing and non-God-fearing people, who did not have the same view as he when it came to a very controversial subject at the time: slavery. Abraham Lincoln was willing to follow and live or die by his moral conviction.
Whether the issue is abortion or immigration, homelessness or genocide, Catholic voters need to insist on greatness from Catholic politicians. As voters, we need to stop supporting party lines. We need to vote our Catholicism. I encourage all who do not believe they should insist on this from their elected officials to spend a day feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen or praying outside an abortion clinic. If an issue of the Catholic Church doesn’t affect you, then make it affect you, and see if your political tolerance of an issue remains the same. Once we have lived an issue, we will become more demanding of our elected officials on all Catholic issues we see in our country and world today.
Sins of Inaction
I am saddened that Richard G. Malloy, S.J., did not mention the inordinately high level of suicide among gay and lesbian teens and young adults in his article “Still Seeking Hope” (10/5). When a “different” sexuality is discovered and there is little or no help from family, other loved ones or the church, suicide is sometimes the result. The church must bear the cross of inaction and rejection of those of us who are the “other.”
Autonomy and Conscience
Re “The Hour of Our Death,” by John J. Paris, S.J. (10/5): I am troubled by Father Paris’s eagerness to dismiss what he calls “patient autonomy” in his article on end-of-life care. If we regard patients as human beings endowed with dignity and reason, rather than as mere flesh to be acted upon, we might instead call the same thing “conscience.” Why is he so afraid of this?
Both spiritually and scientifically, patients are as much participants in their health as medical professionals are; and I, for one, would feel much more confidence in the chances of living out my Catholic faith with a healer who sees healing as a collaboration rather than an opportunity to impose certain philosophical commitments. Further, in the context of the pluralistic societies in which our Catholic hospitals serve, we would do well to understand our Catholicism as a call to the challenge of being at once expansive and coherent rather than imperial. When Jesus healed, he listened first to what those who came to him were asking for. He responded as best he could—not as a client or a master but as a friend.
I think that the issue raised by Michael Simmelink in “A Deeper Mission” (9/28) deserves contemplation. A number of thoughtful people throughout recorded history, including missionary saints of the church, have talked about the difference between virtuous effort and tangible effect. One of the luminaries in our wonderful Christian past said something like, “We are not called to be successful but to be faithful.” Some of our most revered missionaries were failures from a worldly point of view, especially if that view was limited to the lifetime of the saint in question. I am sure that the more prudential judgment we can combine with selfless charity the better, but we still probably will never know the whole worth of our efforts at charity in this life.
I found “Data-Determinism,” by Bill McGarvey (9/28), troubling. I work in the field of analytics and Big Data, and it is the attitude of people like Eric Schmidt and those at Amazon who believe data and analytics are the end-all solutions and that “purposeful Darwinism” has a place in the workplace—they are the ones who are misguided. But putting one’s intelligence and ability at the service of the other is where Big Data will shine. Combining data and analytics with an understanding of Catholic social justice can be a form of triage for the field hospital to know where and how to best deploy mercy and compassion in whatever form it takes. The combination of analysis and understanding of the context creates meaningful use of data. Analytics is after all only a tool. Like a hammer, it can be used for good, for self or for evil. It is all in the hand and heart of the carpenter.
“One in Spirit,” by Gregory Hillis (9/21), really spoke to our family’s experience of Christianity. I am a cradle Catholic, and my wife was raised Presbyterian. We met while working on an Indian reservation in the 1970s. As the local church was Catholic, I never realized my wife’s longing for a church more familiar to her upbringing. When we moved to Missouri, we attended the Catholic parish as a family, and she took the children to a Methodist church. It took me a long time, I must admit, to realize how harmful her support of me and my lack of support for her was.
For years I’ve done better supporting my wife, and we generally attend the Catholic service on Saturday and the Methodist service on Sunday. Our children have developed their own beliefs. Though they were baptized Catholic and went for 12 years to Catholic schools, they are less motivated to regularly attend church than we have prayed for. We became an interchurch family at the outset of our life together. We (especially me) stumbled trying to share together and with our children our unique Christian perspectives. There has been so much gained by both of us in seeing the beauty of Christian expression from the other’s eyes.
Readers respond to “The First Canon: Mercy,” by the Rev. Kevin McKenna (10/12).
Mercy does not mean denying the truth. People that don’t understand Catholic teaching think that to be merciful or nonjudgmental means not acknowledging sin for what it is. When Jesus met the woman caught in adultery, he showed her mercy, saying: “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” We too, will be shown mercy by God for acknowledging our own sins, repenting and sincerely trying to sin no more. Those hoping for big changes in the church are not hoping for mercy, because that already exists. They are hoping the church will declare that sin does not exist and they can go on living their lives as they please.
I have been a canon lawyer for 30 years and have always found great comfort in the last canon of the code: the salvation of souls is the highest law. This pope is taking us in the right direction. Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel and mercy must be at the heart of canon law.