Thinking People

You can only blame yourselves! As a Jesuit-trained scientist (Holy Cross, 1959; Ph.D. in physics from U.C.L.A., 1965), I was trained to use my Little Gray Cells (5/30) in a continual challenge of hypotheses, no matter how enticing, no matter how vigorously promulgated by respected authorities. It worked for me in a satisfying career in teaching and research at U.C.L.A., diverse foreign universities, and the University of California Davis. I taught entry-level physics for hard science majors for many years. Among the most pathetic cases I encountered were students from a conservative or evangelical background who had somehow to mesh a literal interpretation of the Bible with the overwhelming evidence of science. In many cases they resorted to God the Great Deceiver, who made the world in six days circa 5,000 years ago but imbedded in the world misleading clues about a universe 13.5 billion years old. They were not allowed to use their little gray cells in whole areas of their existence. Off limits. Do not tread there!

So are we, Catholic students and faculty together, supposed to turn off our little gray cells as we walk through the door of the church? That seems to be the desire of some in authority, but it blocks us from a more profound and holistic knowledge of our existence. One area that I would like to see examined is a discussion of the effect of science on religion. The early church adopted a literal interpretation of the Bible now rejected by science, the Catholic Church, and most mainline Christians. Thus, the human interpretations of Jesus’ message in the early church were in some respects biased by the incorrect science of the times. What would the early Fathers have concluded based on more accurate scientific knowledge? In many cases, the question is not relevant. But in a few, the impact could be significant. How would knowledge of the lack of a physical, as opposed to metaphorical, Adam and Eve have modified the thinking of St. Augustine on original sin? Could he have conceived of an all-determining original sin that cast humankind into the abyss without an original sinner?

Sticking with Genesis a bit further, the key message involves the role of free will and the ability to make choices in full knowledge of the consequences thereof, good and bad. The church has wisely said that an immortal soul, a gift of God, cannot arise from material evolution. Would our more accurate knowledge about the development of human consciousness modify how the church analyzed when that transcendental gift occurs? Could such a gift occur when a being has no ability rationally to choose good and evil with knowledge of the consequences thereof and an ability to modify behavior? How does that touch upon the role of infant baptism for a human being who has yet to be able to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?

The church has waltzed around these questions for centuries, trying to merge our knowledge of a just and loving God with a series of mostly philosophical constructs (limbo?) designed to paper over the fundamental problems. It would be far better to address these problems head on with a bit of Catholic little gray cell thinking so that we can present a unified truth that blends science and religion in a way to attract thinking people everywhere. On most days, that includes at least some of my students.

Thomas A. Cahill
Davis, Calif.

Dire Consequences

The article Do Catholics Still Care About Labor? by Kim Bobo (8/29), was well written and encouraging. Certainly Catholics, as individuals and even as communities, care about justice. However, one critical aspect was omitted for examinationnamely, the lack of support for, and hostile action against, unions and just wages among employees of the Catholic Church itself. Teachers in Catholic schools can only shake their heads in wonder as church officials proclaim the importance of social justice and the right to collective bargaining, yet suffocate efforts to promote justice within church institutions. The irony is astounding and would be humorous if it did not have such dire consequences.

(Rev.) Raymond C. Kellerman
Cincinnati, Ohio

Drive Off

Kim Bobo’s opinion piece, Do Catholics Still Care About Labor? (8/29), is an endorsement and support of unions. This is typical of the Catholic peace and justice movement. Also typical was the lack of any consideration of the responsibilities of unions. There is no doubt that unions arose because of the exploitation of workers and that there is still a need for them in certain industries.

Once established, however, they are generally unproductive and inimical to the welfare of the workers and the businesses and industries over which they exercise all too much control. Unions today lead to a shrinking job base, bankruptcies and uncompetitive industries. Many will blame this on overseas outsourcing. But there has been considerable insourcing of manufacturing jobs in the auto industry with at least 12 major plants built and others planned. These have all been built in the South, and their workers are very happy, thank you, consistently rejecting U.A.W. organizing efforts except in one instance.

Corporate abhorence of unions is usually explained as resistance to higher wages. Much more important are work rules and a reasonable share of health care costs. General Motors should be the poster boy for the Catholic peace and justice movement. As George Will recently opined, the first welfare state to go bankrupt may not be Germany or France but G.M.

Here are two case studies. In Lansing, Mich., G.M. needed to replace aging facilities. The Lansing U.A.W. local is one of the more enlightened. In partnership with G.M. and the city of Lansing, it built an innovative plant with world-class productivity and quality.

In Flint, Mich., in the late 1980’s, G.M. was faced with spending $300 million to $400 million to build a new paint shop in the Buick City facility to meet E.P.A. emissions standards. They were not about to spend this money on an old inefficient plant with the work rules that were in place. G.M. would make the investment if the union negotiated new work rules to permit modern production techniques. The union response was, Close the plant. Thus Flint was dealt another death blow, and future generations were denied the opportunity for good jobs.

Several months back the Teamsters announced a plan to try and organize the pizza delivery people. One late-night comedian quipped that home-delivered pizzas would soon cost $80. The delivery car would have to have a driver, a delivery person to take the pizza to the door and another in the back seat just in case the car got a flat tire.

Catholic peace and justice advocates will wax philosophical about unionsmost of them have never had to deal with themand then drive off in their Toyotas and Hondas.

Jim Collins
Farmington Hills, Mich.

Who Will Lead

Kim Bobo asks, Do Catholics Still Care About Labor? (8/29). While the article cites the official statements of the bishops and highlights the fine work of three parishes, it seems as though the answer is not much, and that Bobo is trying to get some laypeople involved in pulling their leadership along.

Catholics and their leadership will always respond to the desperately poor and to those who are the victims of blatant discrimination. But when the focus moves to the next levelto the right of people to organize, or the right of people to be taken seriously in negotiations, or the right of people to participate in the processes that affect their lives and familiesthat’s another story altogether.

Too often we have seen our bishops (and sometimes pastors) stonewall teachers unions and nurses unions. Too often our pulpits have been silent on issues of social justice that might hit home or might be complicated. We need to get over the fear that the laity cannot understand the complicated issues or that they are unwilling to face issues that may end up being burdensome.

Fortunately, I believe the problem lies largely with the bishops. Look at how they treat their own priests (or seem to; it’s really difficult to get hard facts) who either are accused of heinous crimes, or in fact are guilty of terrible crimes. How many of those priests have lost their health benefits? How many have lost their pensions? To what lengths have the bishops gone to exclude from fellowship those accused priests? If they would treat the priests that poorly, how will they treat laypeople when laypeople become a problem to them?

I suspect our bishops would say that it’s all in interpreting a hierarchy of rights: that spiritual rights supersede temporal rights and the common good takes precedence over individual good. The problem is they seem always to interpret those rights to support their power and position. That is a shame. It’s also a shame that so many priests are so afraid of their bishops.

Perhaps that’s why Bobo closes the article with a challenge that seems aimed at the laity. It is the laity who will lead in this area. And in some other areas too.

John Deakin Jr.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Overcoming

Thank you for the editorial Loss and Gain (9/19). Some local Catholic parents of students in primary and secondary schools are still so upset over the scandal of sexual abuse by members of the clergy that they refuse to support appeals for diocesan educational goals. Your positive and hopeful editorial should aid in overcoming such attitudes.

John Dean
Chattanooga, Tenn.

New Song

The article by Robert P. Maloney, C.M., A Letter to Young American Catholics (9/19), was refreshing and beautiful. The author raises consciousness and conscience, inspires and conspires with the Holy Spirit to motivate. The subtitle, On singing a new song, flows naturally. The piece is poetry.

(Deacon) Tom Evrard
Long Beach, N.Y.

Comments

Jack Goodwin | 10/1/2005 - 4:00pm
Thomas Cahill addresses a fundamental issue of our rationalistic times in his letter "Thinking People", and his solution should have been adopted during the Enlightenment period. Considering science a threat puts you on the wrong side of history, and the "superficial" rites that are "devoid of spiritual significance" referred to in Donald Rautman's article in the same issue are a symptom of the ongoing worldwide problem. While liturgy and homilies have barely reached Vatican II levels, breathtaking new approaches to the faith have been born in Marraige Encounter, Cursillo, New Wine and various Protestant movements like Promise Keepers. These aren't threatening departures, and they don't radically alter our faith or rituals. But they are groundswells much more seated in real human nature. And not coincidentally they are influenced by once feminine-only concerns like family and relationships. Oh, no! Women priests are already here! And they are probably scientists as well! With the church hiding from science AND females all these centuries you have to wonder how we even have lights in the women's bathrooms in our churches. Come to think of it, we DON'T have a women's bathroom at our church! Why am I not surprised? Jack Goodwin Bradley, Illinois

Jack Goodwin | 10/1/2005 - 4:00pm
Thomas Cahill addresses a fundamental issue of our rationalistic times in his letter "Thinking People", and his solution should have been adopted during the Enlightenment period. Considering science a threat puts you on the wrong side of history, and the "superficial" rites that are "devoid of spiritual significance" referred to in Donald Rautman's article in the same issue are a symptom of the ongoing worldwide problem. While liturgy and homilies have barely reached Vatican II levels, breathtaking new approaches to the faith have been born in Marraige Encounter, Cursillo, New Wine and various Protestant movements like Promise Keepers. These aren't threatening departures, and they don't radically alter our faith or rituals. But they are groundswells much more seated in real human nature. And not coincidentally they are influenced by once feminine-only concerns like family and relationships. Oh, no! Women priests are already here! And they are probably scientists as well! With the church hiding from science AND females all these centuries you have to wonder how we even have lights in the women's bathrooms in our churches. Come to think of it, we DON'T have a women's bathroom at our church! Why am I not surprised? Jack Goodwin Bradley, Illinois

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