Letters to the Editor: May 1984
I read James J. Thompson Jr.’s “Can a Political Conservative Be a Christian?” (Jan.-Feb.) with great interest, and was struck (once again) by the difficulty so many of your countrymen have in separating religious issues from political issues. Like Frenchmen, only more so, Americans see politics in terms of religion, and religion in terms of politics. That’s why they use the same word, “liberal,” to indicate (a) departures from orthodoxy in faith and morals, and (b) departure from the full hard line of Reagan-cum-Thatcher “conservatism.”
Happily, Thompson appears to be struggling out of the consequent morass of confusions. But he talks as though the election of John Paul II was the same kind of thing as the election of Ronald Reagan. It most assuredly was not.
I was once talking to a young man at a strongly orthodox Catholic college in your country. He was so stuffed up with orthodoxy, tradition, etc., that his eyeballs were almost squeaking. I told him that in England, the Labour Party (sometimes called “Socialist”) had long held the great bulk of the Roman Catholic vote. He just couldn’t take that well-known fact in at all. The idea that one can be a good orthodox Catholic and not be on the political Right was quite beyond his understanding. If good Catholic education can lead to that sort of bigotry, what can we expect from the bad?
(Answer: Oh, quite a different sort of bigotry.)
Like the Kaiser
In his essay “Can a Political Conservative Be a Christian?” (Jan.-Feb.), James J. Thompson Jr. appears to have been seduced by the traditional anti-capitalistic bias of his Church.
He might well have quoted St. Thomas, who wrote: “Business considered in itself, has a certain baseness inasmuch as it does not of itself involve any honorable or necessary end.”
The rise of capitalism got its greatest emphasis from Calvinism. It was Calvin, so Tawney wrote, who “endowed the life of economic enterprise with a new sanctification.”
The virtue of capitalism is that it is an outgrowth of free will, and no system in history has given the common people greater abundance. As R. Hessen wrote in the Objectivist Newsletter, “The factory system led to a rise in the general standard of living, to rapidly falling urban death rates and decreasing infant mortality — and produced an unprecedented population explosion.”
Thompson, as a Southern Agrarian, reflects the Old South’s contempt for tradesmen, an attitude shared by the late Kaiser of Germany in his contempt for the British.
William Francis Freehoff
Voices Crying in the Wilderness
Regarding James J. Thompson Jr.’s “Can a Political Conservative Be a Christian?”: His criticisms of politically conservative Christians are similar to my own. However, the one thing I found amusing in the article was Thompson’s idea that political liberals have held such sway in American Christianity. In the evangelical world in which I live, political conservatives have predominated for as long as I can remember, and those who have criticized this tendency were and still are voices crying in the wilderness.
If Thompson keeps talking the way he does, he will never be invited to appear on a Christian TV talk show; nor will his books be sold in conservative evangelical bookstores. On the other hand, I doubt if Amos, Micah, or John the Baptist would be very welcome in those places either.
Prof. Richard V. Pierard
Dept. of History, Indiana State University
Terre Haute, Indiana
Your magazine is an uplifting experience. It must be as close to ideal for its purposes as any magazine can get. Since the New Oxford Review often publishes several sides of an issue, a reader with the most loving intentions cannot claim to agree with everything, but one feels benefited by participation in the intellectual give-and-take.
In the March issue I particularly welcomed Michael di Sales’s letter on Opus Dei.
Born and raised a “devout Catholic” and thoroughly “wired into” the ecclesiastical organization headed by the Pope, I nevertheless pray earnestly that you will be able to follow the difficult but priceless ecumenical Christianity that Rev. Carl R. Schmahl requests in his letter in the March issue.
It is unfortunate, in my opinion, that Scott Williams’s letter introduces “defense” as relevant to the debates on nuclear morality and city bombing. Self-defense has never been a significant factor in our city bombings or, for that matter, any of our foreign wars since 1815. All major wars involving the U.S. in this century have been made possible, or even started, by military deterrence based on “peace through strength.” City destruction has never assisted even our military goals, unprofessional as they might have been, and has done incalculable harm to our national security and self-interest. Unilateral disarmament, an American tradition until 1940, enabled us to avoid foreign warfare and protected us from foreign aggression. Even if, in theory, the end (defense) did justify the means (city bombing, foreign wars) — and it does not — it would still be historically wrong to cite defense or any other national advantage in the discussions of nuclear war and city bombing.
Raymond J. Wach
Literary References to Abortion
I am engaged in the task (both joyful and tearful) of collecting literary references pertaining to either the horror of abortion or, in the words of Gide, the “extraordinary beauty” or essential humanity of the unborn child. I am primarily interested in serious literary references (such as the reference from the journals of Andre Gide quoted above, and stanza 4 from Galway Kinnell’s poem “There Are Things I Tell to No One”).
Prof. Richard F. Duncan
University of Nebraska, College of Law
Abortion: A Different View
It is evident to me, a rather new subscriber, that the New Oxford Review is against abortion. I don’t like abortion either. It seems to conflict terribly with God’s harmony. But there are many other things in our modern world that are also in terrible conflict with that harmony. One of them is the plight of many poor women who live a nightmare existence day after day after day because they are trying to carry burdens of responsibility they cannot handle.
For a bit over two years I served as a welfare caseworker in an impacted poverty area in California. I was forced to recognize some pervasive realities of many women’s lives that I had not experienced in my own middle-class upbringing. In household after household on which I called, I found a worn, tired woman struggling valiantly to meet the needs of her children. The average number of children was probably somewhat over three, and two of the women I tried to serve each had 10 children.
Overall, the mothers’ stamina and survival capacities amazed and humbled me. Most of them managed to bring some degree of warmth and security to their broods in spite of poor housing and a constant lack of money, with attendant worries about evictions, unpaid utilities, and just how long the children’s hunger could be satisfied with pancakes and syrup. But there were some who no longer tried to hide the fact that they had broken under their burdens. It had become part of their living that they would have to be taking recurrent trips to the mental ward and/or that they would have to be taking valium or other drugs that a doctor told them they would need for the rest of their lives. Even with these troubled ones there was often the effort to take a training program, to try to find some kind of job, the hope that somehow things might get a little better next month, next year, or that they could get the youngest child into a crowded daycare center.
Unless he was certifiably disabled or unemployed, a father for the children could not be in evidence in the welfare household. But one had to know that many of the households had men who came and went. I doubt if many of the welfare mothers I knew had any solid hope that some man might be willing really to share their burdens with them, but there must have been flashes of such hope, if only short-lived. On a quite practical basis, too, a friendly man could provide much-needed groceries for a meal or two, or may repair a broken window.
It’s all very well to tell a welfare mother that she should get along without masculine companionship, that she should never indulge in sexual intercourse, but the cards are quite thoroughly stacked against her being able to maintain this, even if she agrees with the basic idea. And when there may not be enough money to get medicine for a sick child, should we expect her conscientiously to buy herself the Pill? When her whole life has become a shambles of uncertainty and powerlessness, do we think it likely that she can demand of her partner that he protect her from pregnancy?
When a welfare mother finds herself pregnant, I have trouble accusing her of deep sinfulness in such a way that I would be free from feeling compassion for her. And likewise, if that woman, struggling to keep herself and her other children just barely above the waterline of total disaster, feels that she cannot face again the intense demands of another crying baby and that the only way to keep open the possibility of a decent life for herself and her children is to have an abortion, I do not feel I have the right to tell her, “No!” Not unless I can offer her honest, solid help in caring for the child at least through the first three years of heavy demands, and really on through the 15 years beyond that (which may make even heavier demands — though of a different kind — on her).
Miriam C. Nixon
Lake Park, Georgia
A Long Time in Coming
Marshall Fightlin’s article “Conjugal Intimacy” (Jan.-Feb.) was one of the best-thought-out and easy-to-read articles on that subject to have come out in a long time.
Mary E. Mendoza
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