Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: December 2012

December 2012

A New Patron Saint?

A thought occurred to me while reading Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of James Robinson and Jay Richards’s book Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family and Freedom Before It’s too Late (Oct). She writes, “Scripture uses the same Greek word for baby for the unborn John the Baptist and the newborn Christ.”

What better patron saint of the unborn could there be than John the Baptist, whose leap in the womb both demonstrates his humanity and jump-starts his career as a prophet?

Frank Sehn


Long Island City, New York

To Those Given Little, Little Will Be Required

Apropos of Robert Benson’s guest column “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of the Unborn?” (Oct.), there is a very simple answer to the many otherwise complex questions put forth over the centuries regarding the salvation of infants, born or unborn, who die unbaptized. It is drawn from Luke 12:47-48, which outlines a sliding scale of what will be required of a person depending on the amount of graces he receives. It could be “much,” it could be “more,” and — though not specifically mentioned — it could be “the most.”

While only the top end of the scale is graded, it follows that a low end exists as well — namely, “little” and “less.” But it must not stop there because there still remains a group composed of the utterly defenseless individuals of whom we speak, who receive “the least” — that is, absolutely nothing. Consequently, nothing whatsoever can be demanded of them. To expect otherwise would be a gross injustice.

Christ did grant the power to “bind and loose,” essentially the power of attorney, to St. Peter and ultimately all his successors. Therefore, any pope at any time could easily use this power to put the whole matter to rest by definitively declaring ex cathedra that the group of hapless innocents is summarily and unequivocally saved.

Who, except a few nutjobs, would object?

James L. Koeser

Chair, Depts. of English & Modern Languages, Liberty University

Clarkesville, Tennessee

Allow me to add some considerations to the debate over the supernatural end of aborted babies.

God knows before birth what a person will do with his life. As the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee” (1:15). This applies not only to the great prophets but to everybody, including aborted babies. Therefore, I suggest that God, by His prescience, can separate the sheep from the goats before birth, if necessary.

Otherwise, if all the unborn are saved, some would get to Heaven in spite of being potential unrepentant sinners. This means that, for some, abortion would be a good thing! This cannot be right. God knows the future and can thus make totally reliable pre-judgments.

As for limbo, it is the best available hypothesis, and we should stay with it. To live a life of perfect, natural happiness is a state that vast numbers of people would prefer to the absolute demands attendant to entrance into Heaven.

In any case, we can never plumb the depths of Divine Judgment, and we should beware of any tendency to the illusion that we can be more com­passionate than God.

J. Allen

Summerside, Prince Edward Island

United Kingdom

Ancient Lessons Ignored

Carl Sundell’s article “The Black Hole of American Morality” (Oct.) was excellent. We labor in a period of time in which morality has been effectively proscribed by the U.S. Supreme Court, thanks to its 1962 Engel v. Vitale ruling, which banned prayer in public schools, and its 1980 Stone v. Graham ruling, which limited the display of the Dec­alogue in public schools. And we are now subjected to rulings that not only proscribe moral teachings but effectively deny the purpose and needs of the family.

America’s freedoms depend on the high standards of Judeo-Christian morality. John Adams, in an 1809 letter to Francois van der Kamp, praised the Hebrews for being “the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations,” and for having “preserved and propagated to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.” Yet we as a nation have rejected this sage observation of one of our Founding Fathers.

Marriage, both secular and religious, requires a commitment by a male and a female person to produce progeny and to train them in the necessary skills and morality essential for the preservation of family, neighborhood, society, and nation. But respect for marriage in America has fallen on barren soil. Divorce, cohabitation, single-motherhood, and same-sex unions erase the bonds of family and society. The initial culprit here, the U.S. Supreme Court, effectively banned the transmission of the civilizing principle of nations: Hebrew morality as codified in the Ten Commandments. And now courts and legislatures are approving the kind of licentious behavior of which Archytas of Tarentum said, “Nothing can be so execrable and so fatal as pleasure; since, when more than ordinarily violent and lasting, it darkens all the light of the soul.”

Terence M. Garvey

Wheeler Correctional Facility

Petaluma, California

My Dirty Little Protestant Secret

As a lifelong Baptist, now teaching literature and poetics at a Baptist university, I’m fairly safe from making the mistake G.K. Chesterton astutely accuses the psychologist of making: that of pretending to analyze the whole of which I am a part. For the fact is that literature worth studying rarely, if ever, comes from Baptists. So I thank the Catholics (along with the Anglicans, and a few Luther­ans and Presbyterians) for much of the good literature. And for Chester­ton too.

I jest, of course, but am completely serious when I thank the NOR and Chene Richard Heady for an excellent introduction to Ignatius Press’s newly published Volume 36 of The Collected Works of G.K. Chester­ton (Sept.).

My dirty little Protestant secret is that when upon occasion a lover of Chesterton (or O’Connor or Wilde or Newman or Pope) rises up from among the dime-a-dozen Lewis and Tolkien lovers that populate my classes, my heart warms a bit, and my esteem of such a student rises not imperceptibly with such near-certain assurance of said student’s good taste.

While the denominational partisan in me might inwardly cry, Why, oh why, do the Catholics have all the good writers? (the answers to which form the basis of an entire graduate course I teach), Dr. Heady’s fine review reminds me of at least some of the reasons. For it seems to me — as an outsider looking in — that it’s the long view offered by the Roman Catholic Church that informs the metaphysical insight, the understanding, and the appreciation of paradox, as well as the sheer optimism of Ches­ter­ton so keenly pointed out in the review. Dr. Heady himself reflects these Chestertonian characteristics in applying the insights of his subject to 21st-century concerns — notably, for example, the New Atheists who, as Heady points out, paradoxically affirm the notions of truth they seek to dismiss in their self-destructing efforts.

Reading this review as I did in the twilight of one of the most depressing presidential elections I’ve lived through, it was refreshing, too, to read of Chesterton’s “hope that the death of the state will be the birth of the family.” Such a belief, expressed, again, within the context of a long view, is enough to make me feel a good deal of Chesterton’s “pessimistic optimism.” And enough to make me feel more catholic — perhaps even a bit Catholic — too.

Karen Swallow Prior

Lynchburg, Virginia

Why We're Staying

In your editorial “Get Proactive or Perish” (Oct.), you beg readers to stay with you. I’ve decided to do so by renewing early at the new rates.

While I do not agree with everything published in the NOR, I find it as a whole, and consistently from month to month, intellectually challenging, thought-provoking, and spiritually encouraging. I find myself older now, a more conservative than liberal person, in a world, even of religious people and churches, that has lost so much of its soul and its intellect that any individual idea or whim goes, and truly noble, humble, and compassionate people have become rare. The NOR makes a good effort toward addressing these losses in society.

God bless your work.

Bruce C. Madara

Pottstown, Pennsylvania

I know full well the hardship facing the magazine industry now: I briefly subscribed to Crisis before it folded, and then took Catholic World Report for 10 or 12 years before it too folded.

I agree that it is tough living out the faith in America today. Consumerism and, of course, acquisitiveness and hyper-competitiveness surely aid and abet creeping secularism. As our society gets coarser and meaner, the little courtesies and kindnesses seem to go by the wayside because we feel we don’t have the time to be patient and respectful anymore. Most people would agree that our nation is in peril, but not everybody sees the moral freefall that we’ve been in for the past 50 or so years, or its acceleration in past 10 or 15.

I believe in your mission and your magazine. God help us rein in our excesses and turn back to virtue!

Keep up the good work, and keep the faith.

Steve Driscoll

Brandsville, Missouri

Rent is rising, college funds are needed, etc., but my needs are few. A special need is receiving the NOR. The whole publication, with challenging articles and fascinating letters, keeps my mind above the lower things in this world.

When I finish reading (not always understanding) an issue, I pass it along to my priest and parish assistant, who are most appreciative.

Mary Bigalow


I’m renewing again. I don’t keep my NORs in a luxurious library like some of your readers probably do. I keep mine in a “library” with a chair that has a hinged lid! Yet month after month, each issue gets read from cover to cover.

Patti Kennedy

Vicksburg, Michigan

The NOR has been one of my favorite publications since the first time I saw an issue several years ago. I read every word of every article and letter, and then pass my copy along to other prisoners.

I was recently transferred to a new prison — my fifth, I think, since I began receiving the NOR. As in each previous institution, I’ve been assigned to a faith-and-character program dormitory. Being, as usual, one of the very few Catholics around — this is Georgia, after all — I generally find myself having to represent (and defend) the Church against some very hostile neighbors. The NOR really helps. I’ve always managed to get a small group of others — none of whom is Catholic — to read and discuss each issue. While they might never convert, at least they’re reading and considering orthodox Catholic arguments. Since the Mass has never been offered here (even though there are scores of Catholics inside, the bishop of Savannah apparently believes that a monthly visit by a decidedly unorthodox nun is good enough for us), the Church is visible solely in the persons who profess the faith — and in the material we read.

The rumor here is that sometime in the future all three of the faith-and-character program dorms, and the substance-abuse program dorm, will be relocated into a different building so that the prison can create a new (unaccredited) Baptist Bible College program dorm — and so that our prison’s Baptist chaplain can take over the entire building. Assuming that I’m still in the program after the move (the chaplain’s aides have been outspoken about their desire to purge the program of “heretics”), members of the NOR readers’ group (which we’ve dubbed the “heretical idiots’ society,” turning the enmity of the most rabid fundamentalists into a point of solidarity) have proposed establishing an alternative Bible-study group based on the traditional methods outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Together we’ve got one subscription to the NOR, one to First Things (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus was a longtime friend/correspondent), one copy of the Catechism (sent by Raven’s Bread Ministries to an 18-year-old kid who converted in prison), one Douay-Rheims Bible with commentary, and one Breviary (both of which I’ve had for decades). We’re scheduled to begin by looking at the Psalms. Imagine what we could do with actual resources.

While it might be nice to have lots of support, and nice to see a priest once in a while, maybe it’s best that we have so little, because we sure appreciate the help we do get, and there can be no question that whatever is accomplished has been done not by us, and not by overwhelming resources, but completely by God. Trusting in Him and trusting in the orthodox guidance of the Church — as illuminated by the NOR — works just fine.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Frank J. Schwindler Jr.

Alamo, Georgia

The Faith of Atheists

In her letter (Oct.), Colleen Drippe’ wrote, “If, to paraphrase Chesterton, people stop believing in God, they will come to believe in anything.”

Although atheists claim that religion is nothing more than superstition, in my 85 years of life I have never personally known an atheist who did not put faith in something that seemed questionable. Some put faith in tarot cards, crystal balls, or fortune tellers. Others are into reading auras. One distant relative of mine once said that Christianity is just a bunch of rubbish made up by the Catholic Church during the ignorance of the Dark Ages. She is, however, a firm believer in what the cards “tell” her, and she gives advice to others based on her “readings.” When it was suggested to her that putting faith in plastic cards might be a matter of superstition, she replied, “The cards always tell the truth.”

Another atheist I know is very anxious to make it clear to everyone that she does not believe in God. She is quite proud of that fact. And yet she is always fearful of something. She is not certain why she is so fearful but thinks there might be evil spirits lurking about.

Another friend of mine states that she is definitely down on Christianity, yet she occasionally goes into churches to light candles. Then there are those individuals who do not believe in God but do believe in the devil!

It seems that Chesterton was right — without God, people will believe in anything.

Margaret Finley

Long Beach, California

The "Nice Guys" List

Frederick W. Marks’s article “Can Nice Guys Finish First?” (Sept.) was engaging, well-written, and well-reasoned, and had an important point to make: The practice of virtue can lead to solid and successful accomplishments, not always recognized, though many are, as Marks’s examples demonstrate. His argument could be reinforced by including names that space did not allow him to mention. If there were to be an “honorable mention” appendix, among the names I’d place near the top would be Robert Clemente, Abraham Lincoln, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, and C.S. Lewis.

Bruce Charles Johnson

Grand Rapids, Michigan

A Sophistical Claim

Crescente Villahermosa (letter, Oct.) sophistically claims that with Obamacare the U.S. government is requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives for women who want them, at no cost to the organizations that purchase the insurance plans for their female employees. Who believes that the insurance companies will not manage to pass the costs on to the organizations that purchase insurance? With the contraceptive mandate, the government is violating the well-formed conscience of every employer in the country.

Villahermosa then gratuitously denigrates the Reagan and both Bush administrations for not acting against abortion, when in fact they both did all they could in supporting the Mexico City Policy, which prevents tax­payer money from funding abortions in foreign countries. Both President Clinton and President Obama refused to support the policy.

Michael J. Regan

Massapequa, New York

Ed. Note: Déjà vu! For commentary on the pro-life credentials of Republican presidents vis-à-vis the Mexico City Policy, see Edward A. No­watzki’s letter “How the Two-Party System Could Work,” and the editor’s reply that follows, in our June issue.

James J. Harris

San Diego, California

Crescente Villahermosa’s letter arguing that Obamacare’s infamous contraception mandate doesn’t violate the consciences of Catholics and isn’t aimed directly at forcing Catholics and Catholic charitable organizations to accept the promotion of contraception and abortion and to actually participate in the contraceptive and abortive actions of others is tragic.

According to Villahermosa, “the government…is requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptives for women who want them — even women who are insured by Catholic institutions — at no cost to the institutions, which are not required to approve of the treatment.” Sadly, Villahermosa has fallen for the canard that insurance companies will magically pay the cost of those services, and he ignores the forced participation of Catholics and Catholic institutions in this whole immoral scheme.

Meanwhile, Villahermosa also ignores the question of whether a government or an employee or a student has the right to impose his moral values on an organization, employer, or school. Are we really going to accept the tyrannical requirement that if you are a doctor, a nurse, an employer, a business, a school, a hospital, or a charitable institution, you must participate in providing contraceptives and abortion to anyone who works with or for you?

Put another way: Where is the rationality of the demand that a person or organization must, by force of law, participate in providing contraception and abortion to those who demand it? This is sickness, not wisdom; tyranny, not freedom.

Please explain why those who want these supplemental perks cannot simply choose to go and get them where they are already readily available at virtually no cost from people who support them? Also, please explain how refusing to help others do these immoral things is “imposing one’s beliefs” on that other person? It seems that Mr. Villahermosa has misidentified who is imposing whose beliefs on whom!

Peter Orgovan

Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin

Crescente Villahermosa’s letter is an unfortunate display of the typical ignorance about the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Oba­ma­care), the subsequent executive orders regarding it, and the concept of violation of conscience.

First, the government is obviously not “setting up checkpoints” to force birth control on us; rather, it is forcing us to contribute to contraception monetarily — and thus materially — and thereby to cooperate with evil. Insurance companies do not segregate the money they receive into separate funds for each person — e.g., one who wants contraceptives versus one who does not. The money from your premium doesn’t pay only for you, it pays toward the entire insurance fund. Forcing people to contribute to a fund that supports the evils of abortion and contraception is forcing them to cooperate materially with evil. This is why the Hyde Amendment was such an important issue for Catholics: Its intent was to prevent taxpayer dollars from paying for abortions, thus allowing us to escape cooperating with evil when paying taxes. President Obama’s executive orders rendered it useless.

Second, the claim that this all comes “at no cost to the institution” is preposterous. What is a premium if not a cost? The institution is required to contribute to the insurance fund for its members or face a penalty, which we can be certain will go to funding it anyway. Also, this requires that we ignore the fact that many Catholic institutions are self-insured, and would be forced to choose between violating their consciences or shutting down. Villahermosa is correct that “there is no question of a violation of conscience here,” but not in the manner he thinks. This is a blatant violation of conscience.

Third, Christians did not have recourse to politics in Rome, which is why they had to retrieve abandoned children from the elements. If they had had political recourse, then claiming that they shouldn’t use politics for fear of “imposing their beliefs” on the Romans is sheer absurdity. And to claim that every pro-life supporter should adopt every child in an orphanage is a classic example of attacking a straw man.

Finally, Catholic institutions should not discriminate based on faith. We are the universal Church. Limiting the Church’s mission by imposing a muddled view of which people she serves, whether by providing employment or other forms of service, is a rejection of the Church’s mission.

The Rev. John Jay Hughes

St. Louis, Missouri

The Hermeneutics of ?

In her otherwise excellent review of Apostolic Religious Life in America Today (Oct.), Anne Barbeau Gardiner joins a host of others, from both left and right, in misquoting what Pope Benedict XVI actually said about the correct interpretation of Vatican II. In his December 22, 2005, address to the Roman curia, after rejecting what he termed the “hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture,” the Pope put forward as correct the “hermeneutics of reform” — not the “hermeneutics of continuity,” as Dr. Gardiner has it.

“In opposition to the hermeneutics of discontinuity,” the Pope said, “is the hermeneutics of reform, as was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his speech for the Council’s opening, October 11, 1962, and then by Pope Paul VI in the closing speech of December 7, 1965.” That this reform was in continuity with tradition is clear. But claiming that Benedict favors simply a “hermeneutics of continuity” gives support to those who claim that nothing really happened at Vatican II. Were that the case we would not now be joyfully celebrating, with Pope Benedict, the 50th anniversary of the Council’s opening on October 11th, 1962.

William S. Carnazzo, M.D.

Atascadero, California

A Need Yet to Be Filled

Being as active in the pro-life movement as my limited time permits, I, and others of like mind, am continually faced with the impossible task of knowing, on a moment-by-moment basis, which companies and organizations are supporting Planned Parenthood and other death-dealing agencies.

It is similarly impossible to know which companies and organizations support the homosexual network.

What we need is for some organization to maintain such information on a website and allow free and instantaneous access. The American Family Association, which F. Douglas Kneibert cites in his article “The Big Bucks Behind the Gay Agenda” (Oct.), might consider being such a provider.

The costs, I am sure, would be recoverable by requesting donations for this specific purpose.

Robert Lamb

Putnam Station, New York

The Benefit of Hindsight

In response to Richard A. Cody’s letter relative to the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania (Oct.): She was not a munitions ship, as he claims; rather, she was a passenger liner that also carried American mail and cargo to and from the U.K. Yes, the Lusi­tania was carrying 173 tons of rifle ammunition and 4,992 three-inch artillery shells as part of her cargo. This was kept secret, however, and was only discovered when the wreck was explored approximately 70 years later. The captain of the German submarine that sank her could not see through her three-quarter-inch-thick steel walls, so his rationale was not to destroy the ammunition. But he did kill 1,201 passengers and crewmen out of a total of 1,962 souls on board. The Lusitania was flying the American flag (noncombatants at the time), not the Red Ensign, due to her carrying U.S. mail and cargo. So the morality of the attack must lie with the U-20 commander, Kapitän­leutnant Walther Schwieger.

Marta Stafko

Sunnyside, New York

There Is No Such Thing As a "New" Idea

I have followed the discussion of the natural law in your pages: both articles by Melinda Selmys (June, Sept.), the article by Donald DeMarco (Sept.), as well as the letters (Sept.) in reply, and I do not understand why Selmys keeps advancing what seems like a very thin argument. The excessive rationalism of modernism vs. the excessive subjectivism of post­modernism represents a distinction without a difference. Both, taken to extremes, are exercises in human vanity. It matters not at all what contemporary minds prefer to think, or if contemporary minds can accept the simple, self-evident wisdom many virtuous but unsophisticated people in the pro-life movement are fond of displaying on their bumper stickers: Truth is truth, even if no one believes it; a lie is a lie, even if everyone believes it. A rejection of the natural law is a rejection of truth, a rejection of goodness, and a rejection of God.

It is not the job of philosophy to look for revolutionary “new” ways of thinking. That is what dishonest philosophers try to do. It is the job of philosophy to seek the truth and to describe the universal insights that God makes available to everyone. This is what honest philosophers try to do. This is a distinction with a difference. There are reasons why a moral nihilist and profound fool like Nietzsche is the most-quoted philosopher in an age of moral bankruptcy. That other profound fool, Sartre, used to be the most quoted, for the same reasons. Fr. George Ryan (letter, Sept.) is correct: The realities of human honesty and dishonesty are the result of our internal struggles with sin, and this cannot help but distort what we prefer to believe about everything else.

Einstein said of the pursuit of the grand, unified field theory by physicists, from an era before political correctness, that the theory must reveal the underlying elegant simplicity of nature in such a way that its essential principles could be explained to a barmaid. The essential rebuke to the vanity of the contemporary world is that there really is no such thing as a new idea. God has thought of everything already. Discovery exists, but we can only discover what God already knows, and what we know must be in accord with what God knows. Truth is the reflection of the mind of God and is accessible to everyone. It is the job of Christian teachers of philosophy, or teachers in any other discipline, never to forget this.

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