Letters | Commonweal communities, science fiction, etc.



For many Commonweal readers and writers, 2016 was an unrelenting downer. What started as a quixotic run for the presidency by Donald Trump turned into a victory. That victory has left many of us bewildered and afraid of what the next few years might bring, both domestically and internationally. What has happened to our country? What will happen to our country over the next few years? These are important questions.  Many of them cannot be answered yet.

But amidst this pessimism, we have found some signs of hope. One of these signs is the growing number of people and organizations who are making their part of the world a better place from the bottom up.

In the two Commonweal Local Communities to which I belong, we have discussed these questions and shared our fears. One group of readers meets in the morning over coffee. The other meets for lunch at a local Catholic university’s café. Fortunately neither meeting venue serves liquor. If they did, we might ease our pain, but probably not be very productive for the rest of the day.

One of our Commonweal groups meets in Racine, Wisconsin. Racine sits along the western shores of Lake Michigan. The city has the highest unemployment rate in the state, and one of the highest infant-mortality and childhood-poverty rates in the state.

Two grassroots groups have sprung up in the past two years to mobilize the community to address these issues. One group is called Visioning a Great Racine (VCR). The other group is called Greening Greater Racine (GGR).

VGR is conducting community visioning sessions that involve a diverse group of 2,000 people representing neighborhoods, schools, businesses, not-for-profits, churches, and local governments, as well as many individuals who want to make a positive difference. Community goals are being defined, priorities are being determined, and programs are being developed.

GGR is bringing together a broad range of organizations that impact the environment of our area. At these meetings, the organizations are learning from each other, coordinating their efforts, and celebrating their successes.

Based on the broader environmental concerns shared by all worship groups in the community, Green Congregations helped lead the formation of the larger Greening Greater Racine movement.

From an information standpoint, we have all been amazed at how many good things are already happening in our community every day. Good people and good organizations are making a positive difference to quality of life from an economic and environmental perspective.

From an inspiration standpoint, it lifts all our spirits to meet and work with so many people who are already making a positive difference. As we get to know each other better, build trust, and see new possibilities for future accomplishments, we are filled with hope.

From a celebration standpoint, we make it a point not to take for granted the good work that is already being done to make our community a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

One example of this spirit of celebration happened in the spring of 2016. Greening Greater Racine worked with our local community college to host Eco-Fest. Fifty-plus organizations set up informative and interactive displays of their environmental work. Over nine hundred people visited the Fest. People were simply amazed regarding the many positive programs that are already going on. Many have been inspired to join these efforts.

I am involved in these efforts because of my belief in the sacredness of all life, which Pope Francis has expressed so eloquently in Laudato si’.

I look at the challenges ahead remembering these words from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Let us…exult in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation works out endurance, and endurance tried virtue, and tried virtue hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

We all need to make this period of tribulation an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to pour forth God’s love into our hearts and into our world.

Robert Beezat
Mount Pleasant, Wis.


We are so pleased that our Commonweal Local Communities have helped foster meaningful conversations and community for our readers around the country—especially in an era in which civilized public discourse seems all but extinct. If you’re interested in forming a CLC in your area, or if you’d like to check out whether there’s already a group meeting, head over to www.commonwealmagazine.org/local to learn more or sign up. Email or call Ellen Koneck with any questions: [email protected] or 212-662-4200 ext. 7005. 


I wonder if Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, ever read A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.? (See Paul Baumann’s review of Dreher’s book, “Detachment Plan,” April 14). This science-fiction novel covers the life and work of a monk in a post-apocalyptic world (following the Flame Deluge) in an “Albertian monastery” that stands alone to save Western culture, science, and Catholicism. The way things are going right now, that may be a more realistic background for the need to save Christianity itself more than fret about LGBT-inspired political correctness. Other books deal with the future with or without Christianity. Isaac Asimov in the Foundation Trilogy projects a future of technological advancement where science controls society. Samuel R. Delany paints a world in Triton that Dreher would really find anti-Christian: a libertine society where people can readily change their gender and sexual orientation through advancements in medical surgery and psychiatric reprogramming. Another intriguing science fiction novel, A Case of Conscience, puts Jesuits in space: a Jesuit priest/scientist struggles to determine if the society found on a newly discovered planet is utopian or demonically controlled by Satan.

Bob Killoren
Columbus, Ohio


I appreciated the review of Peter Frase’s Four Futures for its clarity (“The Left’s Dreams & Nightmares,” March 10). Yet the reviewer’s call at the end for more “social-science fiction” startled me. The theme of possible futures and alternate social organizations has been a constant in sci-fi writing, especially since the ’70s through the work of Ursula LeGuin and her novel The Dispossessed, which explored the inner workings of capitalism and socialism, and The Left Hand of Darkness, whose exploration of socio-sexual interactions and tensions now seem to foreshadow today’s transgender challenge.

The work of C. J. Cherryh in the 1980s and into today is another example of science fiction founded not so much on the “hard” sciences as on the social ones. Bruce Sterling and the cyberpunk phenomenon of the ’90s already raised the issues of the impact of digital communication upon individual identity and social structure, in Neal Stephenson’s novel Reamde, from 2011, the cast of characters has interacted in real time through their avatars on the net long before they are in the same physical location at the end of the book.

In short, it seems to me that we already have a vibrant tradition in this country of social-science fiction—we just need mainstream readers to pay more attention to it.

Michael Marchal
Cincinnati, Ohio


In reading the article (“A Crisis for Crisis-Pregnancy Centers,” February 24) about all the important services, both social and medical, that crisis-pregnancy centers supply to women and their families, I failed to find (and I read it twice) any mention of birth-control counseling, something the overwhelmed, and thus irresponsible, woman cited in the second paragraph was evidently in great need of. (Single with three kids, and got pregnant again? Seriously?) I assume the centers do not provide such counseling because they are Catholic in some way.

It is hypocritical to be against abortion without supporting birth control. This is why I get so incensed about people who want to “defund” Planned Parenthood. Federal funds already cannot be used to pay for abortions, but Planned Parenthood is a major provider of health services to poor women in this country. With their birth-control services, they probably prevent many more abortions than they provide. I have read that the abortion rate has dropped significantly in recent years, partly as a result of new, longer-lasting methods.

As a Catholic woman, I am still waiting for my church to get real about this. Most lay Catholics simply ignore the church’s teaching on the subject, which is bad for the church in two ways: it leads people to disregard the entire body of the church’s teaching about marriage and family, and it keeps the church from supporting the most effective way to reduce or eliminate abortions.

Judith Conklin
New York, N.Y.

Published in the May 5, 2017 issue: 
Also by this author
The Truth about Marriage

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