Terry Eagleton’s essay on Nietzsche, “An Unbelieving Age” (March 21), made for bracing Lenten reading. I fear that my own thinking about the church and the Scriptures often fits into Eagleton’s category of “hubristic humanism.” Distracted by its poetry and history, I find it all too easy to forget that the Gospel is the story of God’s willing death
But there have always been a few who not only get it but actually live it, and somehow the church still manages, at times, to communicate the “grossly inconvenient news” that we must change our lives.
Of what might such a change consist? In her recent book Resisting Structural Evil, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda offers Christian responses to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ call for religion to evoke “a new ethic…for caring for ourselves and for the earth.” I recommend the book to anyone who was as inspired as I was by Eagleton’s piece.
New York, N.Y.
The Least of These
Thank you for publishing Terry Eagleton’s “An Unbelieving Age.” If I understand him correctly, in the end he claims that the solution to the hypocrisy of religion rests in a practicing of the gospel of the poor and the powerless. The Catholic Worker thinkers have recognized this without smugly calling out their capitalist Christian neighbors—as Eagleton does, quite convincingly.
New York, N.Y.
I find little to disagree with in Ronald E. Osborn’s “Just-War Illusions” (March 21). I am not sure why he should see my own “just war” argument against attacking Syria (“Don’t Attack Syria,” September 5, online) as something he wishes to denounce. If I were primarily keen on reaching “policy-makers,” as he seems to think, why would I have chosen a leading Catholic magazine as my venue?
In fact, I was hoping to use just-war criteria to persuade nonpacifist Christians that the apparently imminent bombing of Syria was morally and politically unjustifiable. In any case, I think just-war pacifists ought to be able to do more than urge us all, rather lamely, “to work for peace.” In that spirit let me offer a modest proposal.
As a Protestant, I have found that when I try to address my nonpacifist co-religionists about the injustices of any particular war, I first have to explain to them what the criteria are by which to make an assessment. Educated Catholics, by and large, can be counted on to know at least that much. Nevertheless, my problem with the just-war tradition as understood by the Catholic Church is that it is simply too Protestant. Not unlike Osborn, it is finally too willing to leave everything up to individual discretion.
What is needed is an institutionalized mechanism of discernment. Why should it not be possible, at least in the most extreme cases, for an authoritative body of the church to state that no Christian can justifiably take part in a particular unjust war? As the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on war and peace (The Challenge of Peace,1983) recognized, the just-war tradition, when thought through, is essentially a theory of selective conscientious objection. Just-war pacifists might do well to work for the day when the church is equipped to call all believers, when necessary, to the costly discipleship of massive and communal noncooperation.
Kudos and thanks to Anthony Domestico for his articulate and insightful review of Renata Adler’s novels Speedboat and Pitch Dark (“Fiction in Fragments,” April 11). Reading it brought back the pleasure I felt when I discovered Adler and read her novels when they were first published a few decades ago. She is indeed a “writer’s writer’s writer,” and Domestico is quite right that the novels “are almost impossible to describe in conventional novelistic terms.” I hope that his review inspires those who have never read Adler to read the new editions of these novels and that those who have read her will be inspired to return to her once again. She is a unique literary voice. And that is a rare and precious thing.
Jersey City, N.J.
Thanks for John Wilkins’s informative and balanced reflection on the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II (“The Odd Couple,” April 11). Wilkins is right to warn of the dangers of division, and to remind us of our own responsibility for the church and its service to the world. As I see it, even if your pope’s a saint, that’s still but one heart converted!
Timothy P. Schilling
Utrecht, The Netherlands
The Price of Celibacy
I had been planning to reply to Richard Gaillardetz’s beautiful article “Married Priests” (December 6, 2013), and now—after reading Deacon Brian Carroll’s letter to the editor in the February 7, 2014, issue—I must.
In discussions about married priests there’s an elephant in the room: Who is going to support them and their families? American Catholics don’t give nearly as much to their parishes as do members of other religious communities. Maybe large urban parishes could manage, but declining ones are already hard-pressed to meet payroll, housing, health insurance, and other expenses for their staff, even when clustered with other parishes.
I wonder how Fr. Nonomen’s parishioners (“A Hole in the Basket,” February 7) would react to having to raise extra funds to pay for married clergy and their families. In developing countries—where half the world’s Catholics live—expecting a single man to accept poverty conditions is one thing; expecting his family to live in such conditions is quite another! Gospel exhortations (and those of Pope Francis) to “share” in people’s poverty are beautiful ideals; but having to beg from them for the survival of one’s wife and kids? How is that going to go over?
(Rev.) John Koelsch