WHAT TO DO NOW
Thank you for your recent editorial, “Unpopular Populist” (December 2). It is a relief to see a strongly worded message in a Catholic publication alerting us to what may happen under soon-to-be-president Donald Trump. I believe there are some things we can do, in addition to prayer, during this time of uncertainty.
I recently read a Facebook post that reminded us of the frog in a pot of gradually heating water. Loss of freedom does not usually happen overnight. It is by gradual, “reasonable” steps. The post suggested we write a list of what “could not possibly happen”—registering Muslims, arresting reporters on minor traffic violations, excoriating a free press, arresting Hillary, denying the validity of the Supreme Court, controlling the Internet—and what we will do if any of them do happen. Then check the list monthly to see what has happened. My list already has checkmarks.
We also need community. Prolife and prochoice, working class and liberals, immigrants and their neighbors, are screaming across issue divides. Is there a way we can invite people in, perhaps from our parish or neighborhood, to talk, but mostly to listen openly and respectfully to one another’s point of view, concerns, and pain? Not a huge crowd, maybe ten people or so. Maybe we can find common concerns, or at least get to know each other?
We should find ways to support those being persecuted. Support sanctuary parishes or cities and protest against limitations to a free press. Call your legislators to protest the appointment of Stephen Bannon and others. Urge our bishops, and the Catholic media, to speak out unequivocally in support of the Constitution and human rights. Finally, think deeply about what it means to be Catholic right now. We must do better.
REAL BOATS ROCK
I much appreciated Michael J. Hollerich’s recent article, “The Enemy Within” (December 2). Not only did he discuss the issues clearly and thoroughly but he also situated them within a proper historical context. We know the actual history of the church has included both successes and errors—with the latter being repented of, hopefully.
In the late 1960s I heard the theologian Bernard Haring say that the operative principle of the Curia was to deny ever needing to learn anything new so that it could claim never to have made a mistake. The barque of Peter would sail serenely through the storm-tossed seas of life.
Yet Hollerich clearly knows that real boats rock as they try to move forward. It was therefore refreshing and inspiring to read a discussion based on facts and not ideology.
SHOULD OBAMA OWN SYRIA?
In “Speaking Up for Standing Down,” (December 2), Margaret O’Brien Steinfels praised Obama’s “stand-back policy.” Based in part on the recent Frontline program about Syria, I have an opposing view. In January 2012 the Arab Spring was underway. Sunnis in Syria began peacefully demonstrating for better living conditions. President Assad—a Shiite—violently attacked them. They called for his resignation. He began killing them. Obama urged Assad to stop the killing and step down. Assad’s response was to deploy helicopter gunships, MIG fighter bombers, and artillery against the rebels. Al-Qaeda came in from Iraq to support the rebels. In 2012 the U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford urged Obama to provide military support to the pro-Western rebels to stop al-Qaeda from growing stronger. Obama refused.
In 2013 Assad indiscriminately bombed schools, hospitals, and bread lines. Obama said if Assad used chemical weapons, that would be the red line. Assad’s answer was to employ chemical weapons. In response, Obama had attack plans prepared and planes ready to launch. The rebels yearned for U.S. support. Obama then backed down, again. When he did, the pro-Western opposition groups were effectively marginalized and displaced by more extremist elements like al-Qaeda and later ISIS. ISIS then invaded Iraq, capturing Mosul and other cities, declaring a caliphate, and promoting international terrorism. So Obama unwittingly spawned ISIS by his lack of action in 2012 and 2013. According to the United Nations, half of the Syrian population (11 million people) is displaced and there are 250,000 to 400,000 dead.
Richard J. Vale
KEEP IT COMMON
I admire Andrew Latham’s and John Bowlin’s ability to cite Augustine, Aquinas, Aristotle, and others in seeking to discern the meaning of the “common good” in today’s secular and fragmented society (“Is the Common Good Obsolete: An Exchange,” December 2). They are both trying, though in different ways, to create a theoretical framework within which discussions of the common good make sense. It is a noble endeavor, but does not yield a way for ordinary folks to dialogue as to what constitutes the common good in today’s world.
Perhaps the dialogue we need starts not with the general and the universal, but with the specific and the particular, from which in time we may be able to extract some general principles that command wide acceptance and respect outside of the framework of natural law.
We can probably agree that a child crossing the street in a crosswalk should not be killed by the driver of a motor vehicle. We can probably agree that a family should be safe and secure from external or internal violence in their own residence. We can probably agree that a person should not starve to death from a lack of food or water. We can probably agree that people should be free to worship their God as they see fit, or not worship God, as long as they do not harm others. These specifics are just the beginnings of discerning the common good.
What we need is a meaningful and broad-based dialogue about what constitutes the common good today, not a somewhat esoteric debate about how to make ancient frameworks relevant in today’s world.
Emeritus Professor of Urban and Regional Planning, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa
WHAT ABOUT FRANCIS?
I am grateful to Andrew Latham for addressing one of my greatest concerns for which I could not find an answer: “What has happened to the moral authority of the church in society?” Finally, I have gotten some understanding of how the relationship between the church (heavenly city) and civil society (earthly city) has profoundly changed.
Latham wishes for another Augustine or Aquinas who in the past has been able to create a bridge between the church and diverging societal norms. He rather despairingly sees no hope for that at the moment. But perhaps there is a glimmer of light that he has missed: Pope Francis seems to understand how to bridge this gap. Maybe he can gather enough support to make that a reality.
NATURAL LAW, NATURALLY
Reading the exchange between Andrew Latham and John Bowlin on the common good, it occurred to me that we Catholics could also rediscover our own moral tradition, including the nature of morals, the hierarchy of morals, the primacy of conscience, and the nature of a natural law argument, for starters.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, whose thought is entirely relevant today, the point of morals is to give individuals a way to judge their actions based on the purpose of attaining their ultimate good: flourishing into the love of God and living with one’s fellow creatures in charity. This is what is at the top of the moral hierarchy: Christ instructed us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” We may argue about the definition of “God” (e.g. the universe? the Force? the mysterious cause of existence?) but the focus on love and loving your neighbor as yourself certainly resonates today.
And if we actually use a natural-law argument, not just its vocabulary, we might come to some very interesting conclusions. The natural law tells us that things are good simply because they exist; they are good when they are alive and growing; and thinking creatures like us are good in a distinctive way when we exercise reason to do good. Since our ultimate good is the flourishing into love of God and our fellow creatures, anything that moves us in this direction is a good thing. And it’s not rocket science.