I just received the September 11 issue. Your editorial on Donald Trump is spot on, as is Cathleen Kaveny’s column on the death penalty. I can’t wait to read the articles on Junípero Serra and Thomas Merton. I have been reading Commonweal since the mid-1960s and have been proud over the years to call myself a Commonweal Catholic. I’m also a Commonweal Associate.
Recently, however, I’ve been disturbed by the gender discrepancies that mark many issues of Commonweal. Take the September 11 issue, for example. On the cover are listed three articles, all written by men, and a fourth by the editors, all of whom appear to be male. Then inside there are sixteen articles, columns, short takes, reviews and poems—fifteen of them by men. The only piece by a woman is one page long—out of thirty-two pages of copy. That works out to 3 percent of the publication. Men are likewise the authors of all five of the letters to the editor. And all five of the books that are reviewed have male authors. (At least they aren’t all white.)
I understand that when the moment comes to go to press, you need to publish the best material that’s available, whatever the gender of the writers. There are, however, ways to increase the likelihood that a higher number of those available articles are by women. You might consider, for example, what you would do if I offered to give Commonweal $100,000 if your issues averaged 50 percent male and 50 percent female authors by the end of 2016.
There are many things I love about being a Catholic. The invisibility of women across the institution is not one of them. And having Commonweal replicate that invisibility is pretty discouraging as well.
New York, N.Y.
The Editors Reply
One issue of a magazine is hardly representative of the range of its commitments, but Marian Ronan is right. There should be more women writing for Commonweal.
We must do better. A gift of $100,000 would be most welcome, but not nearly as welcome as finding more women writers for the magazine.
THE MERTON MODEL
Many thanks for Luke Timothy Johnson’s fine essay on Thomas Merton. Merton’s plunge into monasticism and his eventual rise to a thoroughly engaged life recall the piercing words of French poet Charles Péguy: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.” That pithy truth—and Merton’s life and work—have helped me in my lifelong struggle to be reflective and active at the same time.
Philip B. Taft Jr.
CLOSER TO HOME
Am I alone in finding Andrew Bacevich’s article “Under God: Same-Sex Marriage & Foreign Policy” (August 14) a mix of insight and presumption? His comments on the ways in which we make our own ethical positions the standard for the rest of the world are surely on the mark. But what makes him imagine that those of us who support same-sex marriage have abandoned Catholic principles? There are perfectly good arguments for civic equality for same-sex couples and, if we do not find it possible to extend sacramental marriage to such people, that does not mean that being moved by compassion to favor support for loving relationships should be accounted the abandonment of trusting in God. In any case, “In God We Trust” has only been the motto of the United States since 1956, perhaps the high-water mark of our sense of manifest destiny. For the best part of two centuries, our motto was “e pluribus unum,” a healthier recognition of the variety of lives, and perhaps loves, that distinguishes our republic.
LEARNING FOR LIFE
Joshua Hochschild’s review of two books on liberal education (“Out of Their League,” September 11) demonstrates how important it is to keep alive the conversation about education. But discussions and debates often fail to bear fruit because people have different goals in mind. There are at least four different but overlapping educational goals:
1. To become immersed in the great ideas and intellectual achievements of the ages. In this immersion one enters into the tradition, acquiring an appreciation of what it means to be human, and perhaps to gain wisdom. I think that is what Hochschild sees as the purpose of liberal education.
2. To discover one’s particular interests and abilities, what you can do well and really like to do. Much has been made about discovering one’s “passion.”
3. To discover your life’s work, and strive to do it well. The first two goals will contribute to that. But from another perspective, the German apprenticeship system shows that competence is important and rewarding.
4. To develop the knowledge and abilities needed to contribute to our democratic society. We vote; we serve on boards; and we should have reasoned opinions about issues of the day. We have a lot to learn in this area.