April 2010

On Target

Dr. Arthur C. Sippo's reply to Jerry Sweers (letters, Jan.-Feb.) regarding Genesis 3:15 is right on target. Both gentlemen might be interested to know, however, that the 1965 edition of the Bible published by the Jewish Publication Society of America translates the text in question thus: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman; and between thy seed and her seed; they shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise their heel" (emphasis added).

Talk about Marian cooperation in the work of redemption!

The Rev. Peter Stravinskas
Editor, The Catholic Response
Pine Beach, New Jersey






As corroboration for the erudite proof given by Arthur Sippo of why Mary is the one referred to in Genesis 3:15, I would mention the strong hypothesis that when she appeared to the Indian native Juan Diego in Mexico City in 1531 — as proven by the image of her permanently imprinted on his cloak — she identified herself in part with the words Te Coatlaxopeuh in the Nahautl language, meaning "who crushes/stamps on/breaks the stone serpent." To the Spanish, Te Coatlaxopeuh probably sounded like "tay-gwa-tla-shoo-pay," which led them to think she was identifying herself by reference to the Marian shrine of Guadalupe in Spain (although that would have been meaningless to the natives). She did indeed crush the serpent in Mexico: the Aztec religion with its diabolical mass human sacrifices.

Hurd Baruch
Tucson, Arizona




Vanguard of the Anti-Tech Revolution

Regarding Edmund B. Miller's observations on the intrusion of technology into everyday life ("To Penetrate, to See," Jan.-Feb.), I've always thought that our automatic garage door opener was bad: I slip in and out of the house without even the possibility of saying hello to a neighbor. Then the cell phone arrived: When used in public, it basically says, "My life is more important than yours." Now we have dads checking e-mail at the Little League game, and moms tweeting at the recital.

I try to teach my kids that people are precious to God. We don't take calls at the table. We put the gadgets down in public. I would have hoped that Christians would have led the revolution, but the baristas have taken the lead.

Café Grumpy's, one of the best coffee bars in New York, is known for two things: It's one of the few places in the city that serves Clover-made coffee, and it banned laptops. I was there on a recent Sunday. It's incredible: People were actually talking instead of staring silently, glassy-eyed and slack-jawed, faces aglow with the soft light of a laptop. The place was packed. Bustling. Alive. I couldn't find a place to sit.

It's a vibe I haven't felt in a coffee bar in a long time, especially not in New York. People used to go to coffee bars to talk, read, or enjoy coffee. Now coffee bars are simply another place to use a laptop. People sit affixed and silent for hours. I've done it. But there's no question: Laptops smother the atmosphere. So it's refreshing to feel something different: People connecting to people instead of to gadgets.

William Eberwein
Menlo Park, California




The Sizable Minority Is Disgusted

A demurral to Tom Bethell's article on Fr. Thomas Reese ("The Heretical Mind Finds a Home," Jan.-Feb.): Bethell proposes that "in the view of his Jesuit peers, I suspect, Fr. Reese is considered to be quite the moderate, doctrinally." Like other groups, the Jesuits are mixed. I don't know numbers (I wish I did), but I expect that a sizable minority reacts as I do, with disgust, when they see an ambiguous or anti-Vatican statement of Reese's highlighted in print or on TV. Most encouraging, I expect that a majority of younger Jesuits differs with Reese on such points.

Fr. Richard Caplice, S.J.
Bronx, New York




TOME BETHELL REPLIES:

I hope Fr. Caplice is right, and he might be right, especially about the younger Jesuits who have stuck to their vows and to the rule of their founder. I don't have any figures either, but I suspect that Fr. Reese fits in comfortably with the majority of his colleagues at Georgetown and, when he is out west in the summer, at the University of San Francisco.





Women Priests Are Not the Problem

I beg to differ with you on two points made in your New Oxford Note "Which Side Are You On?" (Jan.-Feb.) — i.e., that women's ordination is the main point of contention between Rome and Canterbury and is the most divisive issue within Anglicanism. Though Archbishop Rowan Williams may stress the point in his discussions with Catholic authorities, millions of Anglicans have exactly the same position as Rome on the subject. On the other hand, it is hard to find an Anglican who believes in papal infallibility.

The most divisive issue within Anglicanism is the "gay agenda." Opposition to the "gay agenda" was what caused the formation of the Anglican Church of North America at home and the Global Anglican Future Conference internationally. The anti-priestess group has never been able to get a great number together in the U.S. and Canada — and a fairly high percentage of this group has left official Anglicanism altogether.

Wallace Spaulding
Arlington, Virginia




Springtime for Catholicism in England

Regarding your commentary on the Anglican Communion and Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus (New Oxford Notes, "Lifeboats on the Tiber," Dec. 2009; "Which Side Are You On?" Jan.-Feb. 2010), John Henry Cardinal Newman's great sermon "The Second Spring" demonstrates that he is a prophet as well as a saint. In that sermon he predicted a rebirth of Catholicism in England after the winter of King Henry VIII's depredations. At the time of the sermon's publication (1852), the general reaction was one of disbelief in its wild optimism.

But this disbelief began to be dissipated when the Oxford Movement was followed by the conversion of brilliant luminaries such as G.K. Chesterton, Ronald Knox, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Arnold Lunn, Christopher Dawson, and dozens of others into the Catholic Church during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then came historical reconstructions such as Eamon Duffy's Stripping of the Altars, and even the movie industry's A Man for All Seasons and The Other Boleyn Girl, which depict the English Reformation as a tragic event.

Now comes Pope Benedict's invitation and facilitation to the Anglican Communion, which will probably turn into a floodgate opening for Anglicans to enter into the Catholic fold.

All of the above recalls William Blake's visionary poem about the building of a New Jerusalem in England's "green and pleasant land."

Philip S. Adams
Berryville, Virginia




Disrespectful & Insulting

Leo Hunt's article "Is It Time to Dump the Term ‘Pro-Life'?" (Jan.-Feb.) disrespects the tireless work of dedicated men and women who have saved the lives of countless children since abortion was legalized in 1973. The insulting manner in which Mr. Hunt dismisses the dozens of hard-fought accomplishments proves his self-admitted inexperience regarding practical solutions.

Data from 2009 shows that we are winning hearts and minds to the pro-life side of the debate. In a May 2009 Gallup poll, more Americans self-identified as pro-life over pro-choice for the first time ever. And a 2009 Quinnipiac poll found that 72 percent of Americans don't want the federal government to use their tax dollars to pay for abortions. The tide is changing for the better. To dismiss these signs as useless or unimportant is to be an accomplice in the pro-choice side's trivializations.

Calling conscience clauses, parental notification, and mandatory waiting periods "half-hearted causes" shows a lack of comprehension that these measures save innocent lives and protect women. Holding out for long-term justice doesn't save lives in the world of today. In order to fight, we must use the tools available to us. We must win the battles to win the war.

Why must one deny past accomplishments in order to align with the so-called personhood movement? Senators and congressmen have tried to pass a comprehensive law under the 14th Amendment, most recently entitled the Life at Conception Act. The pro-life movement would of course support and work to pass this bill. It's absurd to say it wouldn't. But at the same time, each bill that works toward the protection of innocent human life is worthwhile and needed. Mr. Hunt's suggestion that a personhood movement should splinter off from the pro-life movement would only result in the crippling of the good work being done.

Personhood is not what is at issue here; it is the inherent dignity of each human life. I agree with Mr. Hunt that "every true movement for justice in Western civilization has been a vindication of the Judeo-Christian understanding of man's supreme and unique dignity." However, it is precisely that dignity that the pro-life movement has worked to protect and celebrate for the past 37 years. The parodies of obtuse comedians and politicos mean little to the truth behind us.

If everyone sat in a room and decided that those who weren't pure enough had to leave, the room would empty fast. Moreover, the focus switches from the children who need saving today to self-important ideologues. Pointing fingers, laying blame, and creating sides where sides don't exist only makes us weak and prone to abortion-lobby gains.

Maura B. Butler
Washington, D.C.




LEO HUNT REPLIES:

Maura Butler declares, in regard to a Life at Conception constitutional amendment, that "the pro-life movement would of course support and work to pass this bill. It's absurd to say it wouldn't." Is it absurd to note what has already happened? Personhood USA, a group I had not heard of when I wrote my article, has spearheaded multiple attempts to pass personhood or human-life amendments to state constitutions — against opposition from the mainstream pro-life movement. Americans United for Life (AUL), widely regarded as the premier pro-life organization in this country, publicly urged political and religious leaders not to support such efforts in Colorado and Montana in 2008.

If pro-life organizations like AUL do not believe it is feasible to establish absolute protection for the unborn at the state level, how will they ever regard it as feasible at the national level? If one really acknowledges the unborn infant as a human person, then it is indefensible by reason and faith alike to withhold support from a movement that seeks to establish the personhood of the unborn directly and as soon as possible.

The substance of Butler's argument is that we must work for partial victories in order to achieve the final victory. This is true in itself, but it does not justify all the actions she thinks it does. Convincing one woman or man not to murder one baby is a wonderful partial victory. Overturning Roe v. Wade would be a wonderful partial victory. But support for even one bill or amendment that allows the murder of babies under certain circumstances is not a victory. It is moral cooperation in the atrocious act of child-killing — at least, I do not see how it could not be. An obvious example is the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which would have directed public funds to butchering babies conceived through rape or incest or who allegedly endanger their mothers.

Butler also cites recent statistics that indicate a more "pro-life" tendency in contemporary America. I am well aware of these and alluded to them in my article. What Butler contends with is not any omission of facts on my part, but how I interpret them. This is why she retorts that "to dismiss these signs as useless or unimportant is to be an accomplice in the pro-choice side's trivializations."

How? What, exactly, have I trivialized? Perhaps the labels and rhetoric used by individuals who in fact tolerate child-killing under certain circumstances. If one sets the statistics Butler cites side by side with the tally of citizens who are willing to recognize the unborn baby as a human person, with all accompanying legal protections and due penalties toward anyone who violates them, the real picture is in plain sight.

I do think that someone who accepts child-killing in situations B and C is divided from someone who accepts it in situations B, C, D, and E — but only by the most trivial gradations. It is precisely those who trivialize child-killing to whom such minute distinctions are most important.

Butler concludes, "Personhood is not what is at issue here; it is the inherent dignity of each human life." I do not know what this means. It is as opaque to me as "marriage is not what is at issue here; it is every lifelong union between a man and a woman." There is no contradiction between a principle and its concrete, fruitful application. By my donations, words, and future actions (such as they are) I, for one, will support a passionately principled anti-infanticide, pro-human child, personhood movement. I have no general interest in promoting "life" indiscriminately.





Illogical Labels

One must appreciate Leo Hunt's frustration in his article "Is It Time to Dump the Term ‘Pro-Life'?" For decades the debate regarding abortion has pitted forces labeled "pro-life" and "pro-choice" against each other. These expressions are not opposites.

The debate is a philosophical one and should start in the area of logic. It is commonly agreed that Aristotle is the father of logic. He determined that one of the basic rules of logic is the Law of Contradiction. In his Metaphysics he pointed out that "the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject." Thus, one cannot be for and against abortion at the same time, as expressed in the slogan "pro-choice." The slogan is a contradiction and should be excluded from the debate.

The opposite of "pro-abortion" is known by every third grader. "Pro-abortion" and "anti-abortion" deal in absolutes and are mutually exclusive.

R. Joseph Marilley Jr., M.D.
Englewood, Colorado




How About "Pro-Justice"?

I suggest, in response to Leo Hunt's article, that those who oppose abortion should call ourselves "pro-justice" and support our claim by compellingly logical arguments from self-evident primary principles. Justice is rendering to each his due, and the most succinctly comprehensive statement of what is due to each is the self-evident primary principle that "things belong to those who make them."

Some pro-lifers might reject the support this gives to capital punishment, since it means that all who intentionally cause death deserve death, but those people, if there are any remaining after they notice the self-evident, are indeed "pro-life" rather than "pro-justice," and so we can, and must, dispense with their support.

Justice is the real "seamless garment" — its self-evident principles and their logical implications apply equally in every sphere of human action. A specific application to abortion runs thus: People who generate children bring into being the responsibility to maintain those children. They "make" that responsibility, so it belongs to them; it is clearly their duty to keep their children alive — and to bring them up properly, in full awareness of the demands of justice and of the elements in which justice becomes manifest. Either all parents have this same responsibility, if they are capable of fulfilling it, or no parents have any such responsibility. Which is it?

Also, our owing our lives to parenthood requires that we devote our lives to parenthood — whether by practicing it, honoring it, and celebrating it, or by defending it.

Rational argument from this kind of self-evident principle upholds virtually the entire body of traditional morality. Some might call this approach simplistic; that is how such people dismiss a rigorous moral position which they clearly see is simple and which they would like to call false but cannot.

The real defect of this approach is that by itself it is "only moralizing," which G.K. Chesterton said is the dreariest thing in the world. That, however, is redeemed by its being easily shown to serve mysticism, which Chesterton said in the same sentence is the most interesting thing in the world. That is because the dignity of parenthood exalted by such pure rationality is clearly part of the life of the God of Christianity. Moralizing is dreary because it only shows us clearly what our sins are and why; Christian mysticism teaches us how those sins can be forgiven, which ought to interest any fallible human.

Colin Burke
Port au Port, Newfoundland




Legalistic

I respectfully disagree with Bob Brady's conclusion (letter, Jan.-Feb.) that there is no moral equivalence between attempting to stop an abortion and preventing the killing of preschoolers. His reasoning is based on legalism, not moral principle.

By his reasoning, there would be no moral legitimacy in using "any means, including violence," to try to save a Jew in Nazi Germany because other Nazi police would simply recapture him and the result would be the same. The Nazi regime's actions could be justified using the same failure of the "necessity defense."

It is a law that makes possible the killing of the unborn, and that law is not morally legitimate.

William Newkirk
Santa Clara, California




Poetry in Aid of Evangelization

Thank you for publishing Douglass H. Bartley's article-length poem, "The Proof of God's Existence" (Jan.-Feb.). In an address to a conference on Christian humanism in the 1960s, Charles De Koninck, in considering the rift between the humanities and science, said that scientists and humanists must find some way "to discuss their respective problems…. They must be capable of a certain kind of thinking which would enable them to talk directly to each other…instead of calling in an interpreter." This requires, he said, a return to the Greek method of paideia: good instruction in basic matters, "music…grammar…then a great deal of poetry…. What I mean is not talk about poetry but the reading of poetry itself."

De Koninck was suggesting a recovery of the command of language in a world of "scientism" that imprisons us in a specialized sphere and a corresponding specialized language, which in effect balkanizes all dimensions of our social experience. If Catholics are to evangelize, as required by the sacramental vow of confirmation and Christ's own words, a command of language is necessary to articulate the distinctions between right metaphysics and error. Poetry sharpens the command of words.

Please continue with the new tradition.

John Quintero
Carson City, Nevada



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