Dumb Brutes

Regarding Stafford Betty’s “Letter to a Reluctant Atheist” (4/14): It is very difficult to conceive of contemplative experience divorced from any theological construct. After all, human nature is rational. We strive to find answers to our fundamental questions, to find meaning in and around us. To experience anything at all without finding meaning or adequately understanding what has been experienced amounts to life in the animal kingdom.

Joanna Ionescu

Toronto, Ont.

Executing Orders

Dale S. Recinella (“Ending the Death Penalty,” 4/28) remarks that if just one Catholic justice were to change his opinion on execution, “the death penalty could soon be abolished in the United States.”

Justices Scalia and Thomas have voted to sustain the constitutionality of capital punishment. As Catholics, they are surely aware of the church’s stand on the death penalty, and one suspects they find it morally abhorrent. If they were state legislators, they would probably vote to abolish the penalty as a matter of political morality, for the reasons cited by Recinella. But they are Supreme Court justices entrusted with the task of interpreting the Constitution. In this capacity, they have been asked to determine whether the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment. Their answer happens to be no. Unlike the justices who decided Roe v. Wade, Scalia and Thomas have declined to incorporate their personal moral views into the meaning of the Constitution.

Donald P. Kommers

Notre Dame, Ind.

Priorities

Before I read “Ending the Death Penalty” (4/28), I heard the news that the Supreme Court had declared execution by lethal injection to be constitutional. We should not think that having five Roman Catholic justices on the court will make a bit of difference. Being a Republican seems to trump being a Catholic any day.

Mary Margaret Flynn, M.D.

San Carlos, Calif.

Measure for Measure

I particularly appreciated Dale S. Recinella’s assessment (4/28) of 31 years of data on executions in the United States, revealing that those states with the highest proportions of Catholics have had the lowest number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

As a biostatistician, I offer my thanks for the author’s testament to the power of the transparent use of quantitative data in the fight against injustice. Statistics “give exact results of our experience,” according to Florence Nightingale. “To understand God’s thoughts, we must study statistics, for these are the measure of His purpose.”

John Preisser

Chapel Hill, N.C.

Indefectibility

I have one quibble with “Catholicism and the New Atheism,” by Richard R. Gaillardetz (5/5). He writes that “church dogma, although not erroneous, is not exempt from the linguistic and philosophical limits to which all human statements are subject....”

That which is subject to linguistic and philosophical limits is, logically, subject to error. He rightly attributes errors to us, mere humans attempting to grasp the mysteries of the Trinity; but errors they are, and it is not logically correct to claim that dogma (or any other human endeavor) is without them.

John Rich

Arlington, Va.

Obstinate Ignorance

Thank you for “Against All Odds,” by Maryann Cusimano Love (5/5), on the conditions in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The rape of this country and its women is one of the great tragedies of our time, and yet this exploited nation and its suffering people are largely ignored by the media.

Madeline McComish

Everett, Mass.

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