Specific Moral Questions
I wish to ask your readers’ help in a scholarly project in which I am engaged — the preparation of a comprehensive treatment of Catholic morality under the general title The Way of the Lord Jesus. The first volume appeared in 1983; the second, subtitled Living a Christian Life, will appear soon (Quincy, III.: Franciscan Press, 1993). Eventually a fourth volume will appear. Presently I am starting work on Volume Three. It will deal with some of the less common responsibilities of lay people. And here is where I need your readers’ help.
Every conscientious person sometimes has a question about morality to which he or she cannot find a satisfactory answer. I do not mean problems about resisting temptation or living up to one’s clear responsibilities. Rather, I have in mind difficulties in figuring out the right thing to do. And sometimes nothing in the Church’s teaching provides an answer (see Gaudium et Spes, 43).
My request to your readers is this: Send me questions of this kind that you think deserve treatment. Some questions of this sort might be: May a physician who judges a laboratory test unnecessary order it, despite its cost and burden on the patient, in order to lessen the risk of being sued for malpractice? May a lawyer handle cases in which clients seek something legally available but, by their own admission, unfair? May the manager of a business close a deal, otherwise morally unexceptionable, by paying the bribe demanded by the other company’s purchasing agent?
I welcome questions from physicians, lawyers, and managers, but other laypeople surely have difficult moral questions that deserve careful study too.
Those who send questions will greatly help this project; in turn, I hope they and others will be helped by the results. I will acknowledge and carefully consider every question received. While I cannot promise a prompt reply, much less an adequate answer, to every question, I will do my best to provide correspondents with any help I can toward thinking through their questions.
It is important that questions be sent in writing, and it will help if a question is accompanied by a sketch of the relevant circumstances and the sender’s own moral reflections on it.
Prof. Germain Grisez
Flynn Chair in Christian Ethics, Mt. St. Mary's College
Fundamentalism & Class
Many thanks for the October article (“Are Fundamentalists Really So Bad?”) by John Mark Reynolds, Principal of New Covenant High School. First Bill Clinton proclaims his “new covenant.” Now a high school. I’m glad we were first.
I agree with most of Reynolds’s comments. I don’t think, however, that proclaiming Catholic doctrine with stern orthodoxy (eschewing the softness of John XXIII) is the best approach to the problem.
But I have been mightily irritated for years by the smug Catholic disdain for “fundamentalists.” To the disdain cited by Reynolds, I would add defensiveness and tribalism. Conservative evangelical, pentecostal, and independent charismatic churches have been winning millions of converts from Catholicism in North and South and Central America in the past decade. Many of our Catholic authorities are in a panic. Much of the hysteria is an effort to prove that the ignorant, poorly dressed, and unscrupulous fundamentalist isn’t one of us. A lot of Catholics need to examine their own class attitudes and feelings of spiritual superiority.
Jim Manney, Editor
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Regarding “Are Fundamentalists Really So Bad?” by John Mark Reynolds (Oct.), the question remains: What do we need more, a defense of fundamentalists or a defense against them? Granted, the latter may entail the former, provided we defend them only when they are right, but it includes a lot more, especially Catholic apologetics. Fundamentalists have captured many Catholics, and, except for the rights of the unborn, that is really bad news for the cause of social justice, not to mention that these ex-Catholics have cut themselves off from many of the spiritual treasures of the Church.
Stephen J. Berardi
University of Notre Dame Press
Buy the Book
It was with great interest that we read Avery Dulles’s article on Etienne Gilson’s The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy (Sept.) in your Vital Works Reconsidered series. Dulles omitted mentioning that, after being out of print for a few years, this “almost perfect book,” as he characterizes it, was reissued in paperback by the University of Notre Dame Press last year.
Research Specialists Inc.
Notre Dame, Indiana
Neurotic Victorian-Puritan Cruelty
I eagerly subscribed to your publication after I saw your ads in several respected magazines. I was attracted by the representation that you valued intellectual, balanced perspectives in religious thought as opposed to the simplistic divisiveness replete in most other “religious” journals.
I was born of Midwestern Brethren/Baptist background, so I am familiar with “fundamental” teachings. I was sprinkled a Presbyterian at age seven upon profession of faith (for which, according to my grandfather, I shall never make it to heaven), minored in philosophy and religion at a small private Methodist college, and attend weekly Bible study at a liberal Baptist church. I have a B.A., a J.D., am pursuing an M.B.A., teach at a university, own a research corporation, and write both textbooks and fictional short stories. So much for easy categorization.
I also watch TV (don’t worry, only occasionally), listen to the radio, and generally keep my eyes open. Thus, from my humble position in life, I found the article by Thomas Lickona on adolescent sexuality in your July-August issue and the subsequent letters to the editor by Charles Balsam and John Mahoney (Oct.) naïve, out of touch, cruel, and totally inappropriate, both in terms of biblical basis and your publication’s stated “intellectual” persona.
I have no idea of the ages or experiences of these three male writers, but I would suggest that they (and others like them) spend a week shadowing a guidance counselor at a local high school before they offer expert opinions on the deplorability of teen sexuality and programs that address it. Further, perhaps a look at the state of our country, the government and its programs, the failure of the family and the church, the dismal economy, nil educational opportunities, underemployment job opportunities, and the degree of dysfunctionality that permeates the aforementioned factors together with a healthy dose of psychology (particularly Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) will illustrate the objective causation of the “problem” of teen sexuality.
But back to my piques with the article and letters. Please show me where Christ said that premarital sex is always wrong. You can’t because he didn’t. Neither did the early Christian community. Therefore, as Christianity won’t support it, Balsam bases his argument for abstinence of genital activity on the protection of intimacy. It goes like this: The Judeo-Christian tradition on sex makes participants vulnerable. To tell people that sex is safe when it is not is to handicap their capacity for intimacy.
No, dear Brother Balsam, to live in our world is to be vulnerable, and mere sentience in our culture (or lack of one) handicaps one’s capacity for intimacy. If anything, the physicality of sex is one way in which (whether you agree with it or not) Americans facilitate a facsimile of true intimacy. While such backseat connections may not contain the emotionality we might ideally demand of intimacy, the average person does indeed derive at least some base notion of intimacy from sex. And if that’s the only way these people are capable of experiencing intimacy or a notion of love, why do you condemn it in the name of the God who created it? Episcopal Bishop John Spong goes so far as to accept even responsible gay sex if indeed that is the only way (for biological or psychological reasons) in which homosexuals can share/experience love. I agree. If God is love, and you accept the propositions that (1) God made us; (2) the Creator is therefore responsible for the mechanics of sex; (3) sexuality is or can be an expression of love; and (4) Christ’s message of the New Testament is that we are to act ultimately in a loving way toward everyone, why assault responsible sexuality and the responsibilities that programs like Planned Parenthood teach should go along with it? The basis for Balsam’s argument crumbles under the biblical weight of this commandment of love and the respect for others that both the church and PP attempt to teach.
Mahoney argues that because all us have inviolable and sacred worth as human beings created by God, and we each received this worth through the act of sexual union, then sexuality is sacred and is under the jurisdiction of the divine. But I believe his argument is in error. The mother of us all, Eve, had worth as a human being. She received this worth from God the Creator, but she was not the product of sexual union. Therefore, the results of her sexual unions, the ancestors of us all, did not receive their intrinsic worth through the act of sexual union. Further, sex between Adam and Eve wasn’t monitored by the church, at least I don’t think so. Neither do test-tube babies who are conceived in glass lack worth because a syringe rather than the act of sex fused the egg and sperm. Therefore, the sexual act is not the origin of our worth as Mahoney erroneously claims. Thus, it is not for the churches to issue decrees against sexuality for their own political, manipulative, or doctrinal purposes, even if they are logically correct.
Yet even such logic misses the point. Human behavior, particularly that of teens, is not based on logic. Neither are sexual hormones which surge through the veins of us all. I agree with Mahoney that if it were possible to order behavior logically, we would live in a much more orderly world. But it would be a world devoid of the reality of human needs, emotions, and attempts to cope. In the classic tradition of prosaic wisdom, God created us with sexual needs which we must all satisfy in order to lead productive, well-adjusted lives free from neurosis and obsessive/compulsive behavior. As stated, humanity is obviously not always motivated by logical argument. Mahoney’s rational method won’t work.
I invite everyone reading this to look around, explore Genesis, and consider the human condition and Christ’s real mission in this world. Then get back to me on these thoughts. And please, dear editors, at least consider printing an intellectual and balanced article on what the church should really be involved in (compassionately meeting human needs in our desperate world) rather than conservatively and pedantically denouncing sex, contraception, and STD responsibility. There really are some balanced intellectuals out here who care about the pressing concerns of the human condition more than neurotic Victorian-Puritan notions of repressed sexuality cloaked in the veil of faith.
L. Anne Hepler
As a matter of fact, Christ did say premarital sex (fornication) is wrong, and He didn’t allow for any exceptions. “The things that defile a person,” He said, are “wicked thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, perjury, slander” (Mt. 15:18-20). As for the early Christian community, there is ample condemnation of fornication in the New Testament itself (check your concordance). More generally, if you think the moral capacities of adolescents resemble those of rabbits, you have traveled far from your solid Protestant upbringing.
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