A DIGITAL WORLD OF IDEAS
I share Zena Hitz’s dismay about the decline of the physical book as a vehicle for encounters with ideas, including those involving the classics (“Human Fundamentals,” June). However, I think she undersells the egalitarian possibilities of the digital world.
In India, where I live, the chances of even a privileged student encountering the classics through a physical book are slim. There are very few decent public libraries to speak of, and the secondhand book stalls which college students used to browse a few decades ago are dwindling. They might find a copy of Plato’s Republic in a bookstore in one of the major cities, or in their college library (if they have one, and if their college education requires them to use it—neither of which one should take for granted). Of course, it would be on the syllabus of an undergraduate or master’s course in Western philosophy or political thought, but often introduced via commentaries and expositions rather than the text itself.
On the other hand, the Penguin edition of the Republic is affordably priced on Amazon India for a middle-class Indian—less than about two cups of coffee in a decent cafe; print, still, but necessarily mediated through the digital. For the savvy, there is the vast world of pirated books available on sites like libgen, available to anyone with a mobile phone and a data connection.
There are many ways in which an intellectually curious person might come across the Republic in their wanderings on the web—a TED talk, an Amazon browsing suggestion, an article in Aeon, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Substacks, freely available academic content on a massive open online course (MOOC).
Thanks to the web, students and autodidacts in India (not to mention academic researchers!) have access to a much greater world of intellectual ideas than they would have had even a decade ago, and this access is distributed more evenly than ever before.
Department of Humanities and Social
Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi
New Delhi, Delhi, India
LET THE CHILDREN COME TO ME
Kudos to Mollie Wilson O’Reilly for her column about the conflict between Bishop Robert McManus and Nativity School (“False Flags,” July/August). I, too, disagree with the bishop’s decision to require the school to drop its Black Lives Matter and gay-pride banners, and, when they refused to do so, to withdraw his permission to allow the school to call itself Catholic.
In his initial letter to the school, Bishop McManus rightly states that the Church teaches “that everyone is created in the image and likeness of God,” and are thus equal in dignity and value in God’s own eyes. But he objects to these banners because they have sometimes been misappropriated to signal “distrust of police” or the support of gay marriage. The irony here is hard to swallow. Perhaps the bishop should have his Catholic schools remove the crosses from their classrooms because that symbol has been so often co-opted to justify a host of sins over the past two millennia, including Crusaders’ pillages, colonialist oppression, and white supremacy.
These banners stand for inclusion, equality, and the dignity of the human person regardless of race or sexual orientation. The abuse of those symbols by others should in no way obscure the truth of their intended message any more than the sins of those who abuse the cross should obscure its truth. The Church is obligated to not only respect and honor the meaning of these banners, but, as O’Reilly points out, to reach out to those who are marginalized, persecuted, and discriminated against in our society, or, as Jesus proclaimed at the start of his ministry, “to bring glad tidings to the poor...proclaim liberty to captives and...let the oppressed go free.” Instead of criticizing, we should all be congratulating the Nativity School community for so publicly living out our Lord’s command to “let the children come to me,” to stand for justice, and to love one another as he has loved us.
TAKING THE VICTIMS’ SIDE
Isaac Holeman’s wonderful tribute to Paul Farmer (“An Antidote to Despair,” May) put me in mind of something Henri Nouwen wrote some years ago in Worship:
Compassion manifests itself in solidarity, the deep consciousness of being part of humanity, the existential awareness of the oneness of the human race, the intimate knowledge that all people, however separated by time and space, are bound together by the same human condition. Solidarity is more—much more—than the intellectual affirmation of shared humanity; it is the profound felt experience of human sameness.
In The Plague, Albert Camus talks of “taking the victims’ side.” Farmer understood what that meant more than most.
T. Michael McNulty, SJ
Marquette University Center for Peacemaking