A Piece to Be Proud Of
“Beyond the Stalemate” is a very fine piece that Commonweal should be proud to have printed and Steinfels happy to have written. Its great strength is its clarity about the differences that separate: (1) taking a position to be true and important; (2) thinking that there are arguments that ought to convince everyone of its truth and importance; (3) thinking that the coercive force of positive law ought to be used against those who do not find the position true and important. On all sides of the debate these things get run together, even though it’s axiomatic for the Catholic intellectual tradition that we ought not attempt the writing of everything we take to be true and important into law. Deciding when to do that, and when not to, is a matter of prudence. I agree with Steinfels that abortion is the taking of human life, and that it is very important to think so and to act as if one thought so. I agree with him, too, that it is in the nature of the case that we should not expect everyone to think so. If we care about changing hearts as well as minds, about reweaving the fabric of our culture both within and without the church, and about reducing the number of abortions in this country, Steinfels’s way forward is the way to go.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
I applaud Peter Steinfels for his carefully reasoned and comprehensive treatment of the difficult topic of abortion from the viewpoint of faith (“Beyond the Stalemate,” June 14). It is not easy to engage in such a discussion. The conversation slips crazily from biology to doctrine to theology to philosophy to law to culture. A religious tradition can adopt a discovery of biology for the start of human life, but that is still a biological position, subject to the vagaries of further discovery. The same with ensoulment, a religious belief beyond any empirical research. In philosophy the issue of when personhood begins is still an open question. Least helpful is the legal perspective, which tends to dominate in an overly legal culture. To reduce the important issue of abortion to a discussion of legality, penalties, restrictions and the like is an ugly part of contemporary American culture.
Recently I was engaged in a Muslim-Christian dialogue, and we had an animated discussion on abortion. The group of Muslims (mostly professional people) was unanimous in being profamily and prolife. They were also unanimous in concluding that abortion should be permitted only in the early weeks of pregnancy—and in regarding this as a prolife position, aware that abortion always has been and always will be with us. I was intrigued by their realism and absence of legal reference. Throughout the history of abortion, most people have agreed that the further along a pregnancy, the greater the need to safeguard and treasure that pregnancy. And I submit that a united effort on all the culture-of-life issues (not just abortion) is the only consistent and convincing path.
-Ken Smits, OFM, CAP.
Fon du Lac, Wisc.
Make Room for Danny
Kathleen Sprows Cummings’s interesting article “Native Daughters” (June 1) demonstrates how at this time in our national life much of the effort to canonize Americans is divided by ethnic and ideological aims. It may be more fruitful to consider persons of high sanctity known in the general culture. My candidate would be Danny Thomas. He maintained a faithful marriage as husband and father while working in an entertainment industry that encouraged licentious behavior, started St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and came out of retirement to help save the hospital from bankruptcy. His life was a remarkable American Christian witness that deserves to be recognized by the universal church.