ABSENT WITHOUT LEAVE
Paul Lauritzen portrays Gilbert Meilaender as a stalwart defender of human life (“Intellectual Street Fighter,” May 21). But from what I’ve seen with my own eyes, Meilaender is not too keen on protecting life from the clutches of militarism. On the subject of the war in Iraq—one of the foremost assaults on life in our time—Meilaender was conspicuously absent without leave. In the spirit of Meilaender’s alleged candor and bluntness, allow me to relate the following incident.
In the fall of 2002, I attended and delivered a paper at a conference held at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. Naturally, as those months were a tense prelude to the invasion of Iraq, several of the panels were devoted to war and peace. (All of them were bellicose, I might add, especially the ones dominated by Evangelical scholars.) One of the bigger-ticket panels featured Meilaender, Russell Hittinger, and an Air Force veteran and scholar whose name I’m glad I can’t remember. The Air Force vet was clearly hopped up for war. Hittinger mumbled some forgettable remarks about the United Nations, the tone of which, I do recall, was not favorable. Meilaender’s talk was unmemorable as well, but during the Q and A, he revealed himself to be a good deal more credulous than Lauritzen’s profile would lead you to think.
A student stood up and said, “Look, we all know that governments have lied in the past. Why should we believe what the Bush administration is telling us now about weapons of mass destruction?” A nice direct question for the panel to address, and one that Meilaender should have been glad to take on. No doubt thinking that the lad was some peacenik, Meilaender shook his head, chuckled in an avuncular fashion, and replied, “Oh, I don’t think we have any reason to think that we’re being lied to.” Here’s a man clearly old enough to remember the Gulf of Tonkin, My Lai, and Watergate, and what does he do? He counsels credulity and submission.
I wonder how Meilaender feels now, complicit in his own small way in the lies, duplicity, and slaughter of that senseless war. Clearly, Meilaender would rather beat up on stay-at-home dads, or working mothers, or gays, or some other beleaguered group rather than stand up to a government engaged in waging a criminal war. So I can’t credit Lauritzen when he writes that Meilaender “is not interested...in selling a cheap edition of conscience and authority.”
MEANT TO LAST?
I was disappointed with John F. Haught’s review of Nicholas Wade’s book The Faith Instinct in your Theological Books section (“Hard-wired for God?” April 9).
Haught’s review focuses on a final short chapter on the future of religion and unfairly assigns poor Wade to the circle of hell where the likes of Sam Harris are punished. Haught writes that Wade’s judgment is that “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with their belief in a personal, transcendent God, ‘were not meant to last forever.’” What Wade actually wrote was this: “The fact that they (that is, the three monotheisms) have endured for so long does not mean that they were meant to last forever.” Wade makes no connection between a religion’s belief in a personal, transcendent God and lasting forever, which is what Haught implies.
In the final paragraph of his book, Wade writes of a transformation of religion through human choice: “It would touch all the senses and lift the mind. It would transcend self. And it would find a way to be equally true to emotion and to reason, to our need to belong to one another and to what has been learned of the human condition through rational inquiry.” Sounds a lot like Teilhard de Chardin.
CHRISTOPHER A. CONROY