Letters to the Editor: April 1984
Ignoring the U.S.S.R.
Regarding Archbishop Quinn’s “Roman Catholics and Central America” (Dec): He quotes this from a 1981 statement by the U.S. Catholic bishops: “The Catholic Church in Latin America as elsewhere has hardly been complacent about Communism.”
To believe this, one would have to deny the Archbishop’s article itself wherein he manages harsh denunciation of the current U.S. vigor while totally ignoring casual incursions by the U.S.S.R. and its surrogates while the U.S. tried to practice détente.
I offer a quotation as an appropriate balance to the Archbishop’s piece: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, no spiritual pigmy, has tried heroically to remind us what communism is. Most recently in a Tokyo speech (printed in National Review), he said something of vital importance to those who espouse the honorable cause of justice and human rights: “Any compromise with any form of Communism spells disaster. [Communists] are no ordinary political negotiating partners, and the only ones to benefit from any such negotiations are they themselves. To expect that the Communists will ever show any sign of mercy is to delude oneself…. Communism is a force such as the world has never seen. It is anti-human and even metaphysical.”
If the American bishops and their periti in the U.S. Catholic Conference would occasionally show awareness of these realities, Catholics could be more accepting of assertions that the Church is not complacent about communism in its struggle for justice and human rights.
William K. Mulvey
Are Roman Catholic Leaders Crazy?
John Quinn’s article, “Roman Catholics and Central America” (Dec.) demands a hostile reply. Archbishop Quinn expresses admiration for the Roman Catholic Church of Central America because of its leaders’ sensitivity to the problems of the poor and their sense that there have been terrible injustices committed in those nations. It is easy for a non-Catholic Christian to observe that for many decades the most powerful institution in this region was the Roman Catholic Church — its leaders were the most trusted dispensers of ideas, the only preachers of theology, and the most respected social leaders. If in the past there have been great injustices, then at least some of the blame should go to this Church, which has for so long dominated religious activity in this region.
Today for the first time in history, large numbers of Central American Catholics are being converted by Protestant churches. Some towns are entirely Protestant. Guatemala has had a Protestant leader. Protestants are using North American church money and volunteers to build decent homes where they are needed, teach people to use land more productively, teach the Gospel, and solve local problems in practical ways. Many of these Protestants tend to be profoundly anti-communist, but do not try to get involved in Central American conflicts. Meanwhile, Catholics are having an extremely difficult time recruiting young priests in Central America, due, as I understand it, to lack of interest, not fear of terrorism. Central American Catholics occasionally make public statements in support of violent revolution for the communist cause. Could it be that large numbers of Central Americans, whom Archbishop Quinn is so sensitive toward, are disenchanted with his Church, but attracted to Protestant churches because of the shortcomings of this Roman Catholic Church relative to Protestant strengths?
Quinn makes it clear that he counts himself among those very many Catholics who are against American aid to El Salvador in part because some of the soldiers paid by American money engage in horrible acts of violence against civilians suspected of sympathizing with the rebels. In our own Civil War there were Union soldiers who roamed from plantation to plantation and burned, raped, murdered, and plundered all they could reach. These plantations were owned and inhabited by civilians, not military people. In our Civil War the Union side fought for freedom, justice, and equality, just what the government soldiers in E Salvador fight for. Is their cause unjust merely because some horrible things occur? Or, would true justice from the Catholic perspective demand that El Salvador ignore its constitutional process and election mandate to surrender a degree of political power to a tiny violent minority that is determined to establish a communist-style tyranny with help from the Soviet Union and its proxies? Do Catholic leaders really believe that the causes of justice and peace are served by resuming aid to Nicaragua, a nation whose government’s statements and actions indicate a strong desire to build a Soviet-allied totalitarian gulag-state? Or that we should cut off desperately needed military and economic aid to El Salvador, a nation whose fairly elected government is trying hard to create a stable and classically liberal political and economic system as we Americans have, despite the facts that they have bent over backwards to conform to our every wish — instituting an American-designed land-reform program which had a disastrous effect on the poor, preventing the most popular Salvadoran politician from being president because of American disapproval, and holding elections? Do Catholic leaders want El Salvador in 1984 to be a repeat of Vietnam, 1975, when a longtime friend trying to resist communism had all aid cut off from America, and subsequently sent some of its troops to face the communist onslaught without adequate ammunition and supplies, resulting in totalitarian tyranny, and boat people? Do Catholics value peace so much that all other injustices which would be perpetrated by communists are ignored in order to preserve peace? Are Catholic leaders crazy?
Wallace R. Noll
Full Employment Is Hellish
In his article “Social Justice and Hell-Fire” (Dec.), John C. Cort proposes the slogan, “Give us full employment or go to hell.” If you consider this demand in a different context, it could be called Hell. In modern societies, the nearest thing to full employment existed in Nazi Germany in World War II. Next was probably the U.S.S.R. in World War II. Neither Britain nor the U.S. had full employment then, though they were close. Full employment needs a police state with power to put you in jail if you don’t work where the government sends you, power to put the businessman in jail and fine him if he doesn’t hire you, power to require other government agencies to hire you or be financially punished, jail power or gun power to make sure you show up for work — and then work. Even then you will have unemployables. Communism usually handles unemployment neatly through semantics and definitions. By definition, communist planning eliminates unemployment. For example, China says it has no unemployment; instead it has 20 to 60 million people waiting to enter the labor market.
Cort repeats a popular statement of idealists, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” and like many good people he wants to translate a pious slogan into economics. With apologies to the well-intentioned, this is frightening. Again, you are talking about a personnel policy that concludes in a police state. Semantics first: define “abilities.” For illustration, around the universities I find great resentments and envies that the outside world is not granting great power and status to academics and writers. Around the mining camps the miners believe their talents are underappreciated and underpaid, and they despise those who work above ground. In wartime, with all the advantages of a popular World War II, police powers, censorship, willingness to sacrifice and share, still the Wage and Price Boards had continuing and bitter rivalries over who got what.
Regarding the Basque co-ops, Cort states that top executives “receive only three times as much as the lowest paid member. Religious commitment is often the essential ingredient in such executives.” Cort inadvertently reveals part of the problem: inequality of income seems to be acceptable here. But it is unlikely that the boss’s kids need three times as much food as the laborer’s kids, or three times as many cars. Once such inequality is accepted, what happens to payment by need? And if “religious commitment is often the essential ingredient,” in what society do you expect to find that? The theologian Demant described that problem. In an inexact quote I think Demant said: “It is not justice for most men to be required to live under laws and assumptions that all men are religious or self-sacrificing. A decent respect for justice and for mankind must assume that men will vary in thought and behavior but that the rules and orders will be the same for all.”
I was an economist for many years. Then I became an Episcopal priest, now retired. At present I respect the Roman Catholic Church more than I do my own. But, but, but, please do not quote Roman Catholic encyclicals or Episcopal Church sources as authority in economics; such quotations make it difficult for economists to become Christian or to remain so. When I went from atheism to Christianity, one of the burdens was to try and ignore what clergy said about economics.
The Rev. Robert G. Pumphrey
Lowest Common Denominator
Having recently delighted in James J. Thompson Jr.’s University Bookman article, “Confessions of an Ex-Jeffersonian,” I was gravely disappointed in his NOR article, “Can a Political Conservative Be a Christian?” (Jan.-Feb.). Things would have gone far better had Thompson attempted some definition of “conservative.”
Instead, Thompson discusses conservatism and conservatives in the abstract, lumping under one banner such discordant strains as traditionalist Catholics, Chicago monetarists, Straussians, New Right moral majoritarians, Old right corporationists, supply-side gold bugs, and right-wing anarchists who go by the name “libertarian.” Thompson’s essay lacks specificity, with the exceptions of his brief discussion of Novak and Gilder. Thompson views conservatives from the standpoint of the lowest common denominator; the attitudes he assays are found mostly at John Birch Society campfires and Southern Baptist bake sales. I neither share nor know of many conservatives who share the attitudes Thompson censures. I know such attitudes exist, but Thompson should have determined where such attitudes thrive, and not simply attribute them to “conservatives” generally.
San Marino, California
As much as I enjoyed most of James J. Thompson Jr.’s article “Can a Political Conservative Be a Christian?” (Jan.-Feb.), he repeated a widely heard myth — namely, that conservatives have little compassion for women undergoing elective abortions and quickly label them murderers. I beg to differ.
I have worked with dozens of prolifers from coast to coast, and known hundreds of others at nearly every level of this great movement. I have attended numerous prolife workshops and seminars, and read thousands of pages of material on the subject. Quite frankly, I have never heard a prolifer refer to a woman undergoing an abortion as a murderer. Never.
Deliberate abortion, like manslaughter, is a species of homicide. The crucial difference between the two lies in the intent of the actor. A murderer intends to kill his victim; a manslaughterer does not. Most women have been so consistently lied to on abortion that they do not really believe or consider what is within them to be a human being — however incorrect their beliefs, most do not intend to kill a human being, and are thus not murderers. The term murderer, even for those women who do have a clear understanding of what they are doing, is just not used to describe these women.
I do hear the term murderer applied to abortionists, and frequently. Here there is little doubt that, as doctors and nurses, they know they are deliberately killing a human being. Except for some legal considerations not relevant here, the term murderer, when applied to abortionists, is quite accurate. If anything, it is not used often enough by prolifers.
Moreover, I also hear the liberal, undoubtedly pro-abortion press claim that prolifers accuse these women of being murderers. But they, so far as my experience runs, are the only ones to use the term. Of course, as soon as one says, “I never hear X,” some remote example of X being said might be produced, or concocted. Such would not change my first point: prolifers do not refer to women undergoing abortions as murderers; the press does. Prolifers reserve the term for bloody abortionists.
My second point concerns the current wisdom that prolifers are unconcerned about these women and their problems. Again, speaking only from my experience, the facts belie the myth.
Nearly every prolifer I have met has, at some time or another, been involved in some charitable support effort for these women. Perhaps it has been as a volunteer for Birthright, perhaps as a supplier of baby goods, perhaps as a handyman for a shelter home, as telephone counselor, a legal assistant, volunteer nurse, babysitter, teacher, job hunter, and the list goes on. Perhaps the circumstances are such that a prolifer can only pray for these women — as if prayer was the least we could do. The facts indicate that it is, in reality, only the prolifer who is concerned about these women. One does not find them offering death and destruction to a young woman in need.
I am sure Thompson and I are in agreement over the tragedy of deliberate abortion. I offer the above comments only because he is an ally in this battle and, as such, it is important that we be very clear on what we say about ourselves, and what the other side says about us.
Edward N.J. Peters, Esq
Not Abused, Unfulfilled, Bored, or Exploited
I finally have to express the feelings I have harbored for a long time about people telling me I am abused, unfulfilled, bored, and exploited because I am an educated woman who does not have a paying job. James J. Thompson Jr.’s statements to this effect in his otherwise excellent article “Can a Political Conservative Be a Christian?” impel me to defend my way of life. I am not really defending my way of life — I am defending the way of life the Lord Jesus has led me to.
I am 43 years old, well educated (B.A. cum laude plus R.N. degree), married, childless, and live with my husband in a very small town (pop. 2,600) in a rural area. A set up for Thompson’s lady who fills her time with “soap operas, kaffee klatches, card parties, and other meaningless activities,” right? Instead I fill my time with what the Lord has for me to do — teaching two Bible studies with a third starting soon, myself studying at a five-year Bible study of which I have completed four years, attending a Rosary prayer group for peace regularly, reading a great deal of material about the Church and passing it on to many people hungry for spiritual food and information. I read the Bible and other spiritual books with a group of elderly women who are confronting death in the richness of their lifelong Catholic faith, am able to get regular physical exercise, bake bread, enjoy my Irish Setter and cat, work with other recovering alcoholics besides myself (I have over seven years of continuous sobriety, by the Grace of God) on maintaining sobriety, learn about and enjoy the Catholic Church which the Lord brought my husband and me into two years ago, and most important, spend time in prayer with my Lord.
The choice is not what will make me happy and “fulfilled”; the choice is do I want to give my life to the Lord for his use, or not. This is the choice we all have — it is a simple choice, made many times a day when we open ourselves to His guidance and presence. My choice is to live for Jesus, and because of this my life has an unexpected creative quality that comes from knowing all of my life’s moments have meaning because I have given them to the Lord Jesus for his use. That is living, Mr. Thompson!
Feminism’s Roots in Economic Individualism
While criticizing feminism, James J. Thompson Jr. asked, “How many women have turned to feminism out of the abuses they have suffered at the hands (sometimes literally) of men?”
One cannot quickly answer this rhetorical question because feminism appears to depend less upon the kinds of husbands feminist women have than it does on the economic expectations of feminists. Were men a “cause” of feminism, feminism would appear at all levels of society and not predominately in the white, upper-middle class professional strata.
I suspect that feminism is “caused” by the economy — that feminism is a manifestation, this time on the Left, of support for continual economic development, for increased material wealth, and for the non-traditional value of extreme individualism (which has characterized economic ideology as far back as Hobbes). Feminism provides the Left with an ideology that allows it to support economic growth, especially in the professions, while it condemns economic growth in industry and agriculture. They’ll have their cake and eat it too.
If my hunch is correct, a criticism of feminism — which is long overdue — wastes its time on a criticism of men or even on a moral lashing out at individual feminists. Rather it demands a criticism of economic activity itself and the historical effects of such activity on traditional values.
Answering The Call
The NOR was one of the ways that helped my son answer his call to the religious life; he is now in seminary and is hoping to enter theology school in the fall. I am happy to enclose a small donation for your work.
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