I commend America and the artist Michael Altman for the wonderful cover for your religious education issue (9/24). As an artist—and especially a collage artist—I am aware of the ingenuity of Mr. Altman as he created this composition. He succeeded in bringing together photos, paintings, lettering and other elements to make this a truly visually striking work of art. Collage has been referred to as the most important invention in art of the 20th century. I applaud your artist for enhancing the cover of America with a very successful work.
Arnie I. Tatem
Staten Island, N.Y.The Providence of God
How opportune that you should publish “Never to Despair” by Cardinal Avery Dulles (9/17) at a time when we are all wrestling again with the need to have faith after the horrendous events of Sept. 11. For those of us who were alive at the time of the Holocaust, though not directly connected, there was need to experience, promote and share our faith. Again, we can share the certainty of God’s love and peace in his wisdom.
Louise M. Des Marais
Cambridge, Mass.The Uppermost Question
Cardinal Avery Dulles’s personal perspective on the Holocaust (9/17) arrived in my mailbox the week of the terrorist attacks against the United States. The essay poses the question uppermost in the minds of many readers: why does a loving God allow these evils? Uncanny timing!
But I was not a little surprised when he failed to remind us that God gave each of us the gift of a free will, the freedom to choose between good or evil. To tell those of us who have lost loved ones at the hands of evildoers that their evil acts are “somehow taken up into God’s redemptive plan” seems to me to be an inadequate, even fuzzy, response.
On the positive side, Cardinal Dulles makes very clear the Judeo-Christian imperative “never to despair,” because that is not only a pointless reaction to tragedy, but the ultimate sin. This wisdom was passed on to me in my youth, and I have now lived long enough to comprehend the truth in it. Thank you, Cardinal Dulles, for your timely reminder to hope against hope in the face of wickedness and to work to eradicate it.
New York, N.Y.Technical Errors
John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., in “Stem Cell Challenges” (9/17), has raised some interesting challenges to unlimited stem cell research.
However, there are certain technical errors in his essay that may be meaningful. One is the implication that individuals develop from the moment of conception. I am sure Father Kavanaugh will agree that the possibility of twinning must have passed before this claim of individuality is made.
Second, in somatic cell nuclear transfer, the somatic cell (not its nucleus) is not injected into but is placed next to the denucleated egg. The resulting fused cell and its immediate descendants are believed to be totipotent. They may, under the proper conditions, form a blastocyst. Cells from the inner cells mass of this blastocyst might be used to form pluripotent stem cell lines.
Are the pre-blastocyst cells resulting from somatic cell nuclear transfer to be considered a human embryo? Do they look like one? No sperm has been used in the process and no conventional egg, so some major ethical thinking is required, which I have not yet seen.
Robert E. McNulty
San Jose, Calif.Good From Evil?
For many years now, I have been using the services of the Xavier Society for the Blind to receive America, read on cassette tape. As a result of this wonderful service, although I am visually disabled, I can “read” each issue. Many of the articles in the magazine, particularly the Word column, currently written by John R. Donahue, S.J., have informed and strengthened my faith in a loving and compassionate God.
But how can there be a loving God, or guardian angels, or a “reason for everything that happens,” when we are confronted by the unreasonable and unexplainable evil of the recent World Trade Center terrorist attack and the attacks on the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania?
I have seen over the years, while observing the fighting in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East, that our human concepts of God can divide and destroy us, more than unite us and provide the human family with a source of peace and of purposeful living. It seems that fundamentalism in religion is a force that destroys us and distorts our view of a loving God. The rash and inappropriate statements of Jerry Falwell seem to confirm this opinion. What kind of Christianity is he teaching? What must God think, when he is being characterized as being “wrathful?” What do the family members who grieve from the terrible and untimely loss of their loved ones think of God? How do we effectively teach the world about an infinitely loving God rather than a God who is “wrathful”? How do we communicate God’s love to them now and later, when the smoke and dust and rubble settle?
Does good always come out of evil? To the extent that the human spirit of self-sacrifice can be shown, we can all observe goodness and love flowing from and counteracting the initiation of an evil act of terrorism. The courage and selfless devotion to duty shown by the rescue workers and police and firefighters who lost their lives running into the collapsing buildings to save others, together with the work of those still digging to find and rescue trapped people, is an example of good flowing from evil. The self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—not submitting to evil, but transforming it and thus transcending it—is the primary example of good coming from evil. The goodness and love of eternal life has triumphed and will triumph over death and evil—the evil that men do, not God!
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.F.D.N.Y. Heroes All
All Americans cried on Sept. 11, 2001. Our national innocence—feeling secure in a very insecure world—was lost forever. We cried for loved ones lost, for national landmarks leveled, and for normal order trammeled. I cried for New York City’s bravest—300 or more firefighters lost in the line of duty—for chiefs, for chaplains and, most especially, for ordinary firefighters whose duty it is to run into burning buildings every day to save fellow New Yorkers. It was my father’s duty for 25 years, and I continue to be rightly proud.
As the twin towers burned, firefighters charged into those doomed buildings to rescue innocent noncombatants from the first destruction of America’s newest war. Make no mistake, they died with honor and are our latest war heroes. I pray that this country will not need many more.
Kevin P. Quinn, S.J.
Cochabamba, BoliviaA Distinctive Response
The U.S. response to the attacks on Sept. 11 should reflect our nature as a country, respecting human dignity and rights. First, we must assist the individuals, families and communities devastated by the attacks. Second, we must set in place safeguards to make it less likely that such attacks can take place in the future. Third, we must seek out, identify and punish those responsible.
This last response must in no case be directed against civilians in other nations. We should not repeat the ill-conceived attacks against “infrastructure” such as took place in Serbia, with minimal damage to the military but with devastating and lasting harm to the economies and people of Serbia and other Balkan countries. We should not again hold a people hostage to the sins of their leaders, as we have done through the blockade against Iraq. We should not adopt the futile policies of the Israeli government, which has tried by assassination and repression to maintain the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Our response must clearly distinguish us from our attackers, who kill indiscriminately in service of their cause. We stand for human rights, for justice, for presumption of innocence, for protection of civilians, or we stand for nothing.
Mary C. and E. Thomas McCarthy
Berkeley, Calif.Law, Not War
President Bush’s initial and insistent response to the calamity of Sept. 11, that we are at war, serves no useful purpose. On the contrary, it encourages mistrust and divisiveness. We have, to our shame, already lost two Muslims to hate-prompted murder. How many more innocent Americans must die by the terrorists’ hands?
For all those who are killed or injured in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington, be they here, as victims of vigilantes, or abroad, as targets of military strikes, are victims of those who, with their acts of unthinkably mad cruelty, set the wheel of revenge turning.
We have a system of laws. Let us pursue those responsible for the attacks with law, not war.
This is not a retreat into weakness. To love one’s enemy, to return good for evil is far more difficult than to return evil for evil. Yet as Christians, as civilized people, this is what we must attempt.
Kerry Elizabeth Thompson