The Greater Good

I read with eagerness the 10 letters and memos addressed to Barack Obama (“Mister President,” 1/19). I read them in the light of Ignatian spirituality, namely, the discernment not only of good things that need to be done but also of what is the “greater good” that shouts out to be done.

All the writers suggested many good things that Barack Obama might do as president, but only one mentioned the environment. None of them mentioned what is the greater good of the 21st century: stopping and reversing the diminishment and destruction of the world’s life systems, systems upon which our human adventure utterly depends.

John Surette, S.J.

La Grange Park, Ill.

The Blame Game

Your analysis of “The Roots of Terrorism” (Editorial, 1/19) offers anti-U.S. rhetoric and feel-good proposals about everyone getting along if only the United States would stop being the bully. But the United States has not cast the struggle against terrorism (as you say) “exclusively in terms of a crusade against religious fanatics.” Rather, hateful world factions (religious and otherwise) are anti-American, for a variety of reasons.

A viable United Nations could and should be a counterbalance to the terrorist destabilization of societies. Unfortunately, the United Nations has lost its political force because it has become a far left-leaning entity, corrupt and therefore ineffective. Witness the debacle of the United Nations refusing to act on its own resolutions against Iraq, leaving the United States with no choice but to act.

Put your focus on the United Nations and insist on political balance and integrity there; then you will begin to see the “greater international cooperation” you hope for. Perhaps that will allow you to move on from your constant and tiring “blame America” rhetoric.

John J. Van Beckum

Brookfield, Wis.

Food Fight

Re Bob Peace’s criticism of farm subsidies in “The Food on Our Tables” (1/19): Farm subsidies are indeed likely the single largest injustice in the world today, though very few people realize it. The program was started with good intentions (to help small farmers compete), but while subsidies help the U.S. agricultural industry, they hurt not only other countries (particularly those with agriculture-based economies) but also many other sectors of the U.S. economy.

But removing subsidies will not be simple. Politicians from farm-heavy districts depend on subsidies to keep them in office. Voting against subsidies would be suicidal for any rural Midwestern politician.

More plausibly, subsidies might be gradually curbed, while leaving some support for small farms in the face of huge agribusiness. Any solution must also address the issue of the effect on food prices, which have been kept artificially low through subsidies. Eliminating them will raise food prices significantly and will disproportionately affect the poor.

Edward Visel

Winnebago, Ill.

Another Country Heard From

A Virtual Church,” by Greg Kandra (2/2), was very interesting; but why did Kandra have to quote the old, stale canard of the “brawling drunken Irishmen”? Why insult the very people who helped the fledgling American church and Catholic schools so much with priests and sisters over so many decades? Shame on America’s editors for letting this pass. Siochainn libh!

Eamon Murphy

Thousand Oaks, Calif.

The Challenge of Peace

The juxtaposition in the Feb. 9 issue of th e articles by Bishop Howard J. Hubbard (“Fighting Poverty to Build Peace”) and George M. Anderson, S.J. (“Roots of Genocide”) raises more questions than either article answers. In spite of the lofty appeals to “humanitarian needs,” “poverty reduction,” “government accountability” and “fairer distribution,” there is little attention paid to the root causes of poverty and genocide—tribal rivalries, political ineptitude and corruption in government, all of which are deeply rooted and largely beyond the influence of the well-meaning U.S. State Department or the jaded United Nations.

Christ came to change human hearts, not political institutions. It will take the former changes to solve the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Hutu and the Tutsi, the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims, as well as the problems of Sudan, Haiti or Ethiopia. One could go on and on.

Bishop Hubbard suggests that we can effectively achieve peace by fighting poverty. Unfortunately, the major causes of both poverty and genocide are ethnic, racial and religious identities, none of which are amenable to change, lofty platitudes notwithstanding. It is truly said “If you want peace, fight for justice”—but don’t expect miracles.

William Dornburgh

Cooperstown, N.Y.

All-American Man

The commentary by George W. Hunt, S.J., (“Updike at Rest,” 2/16) is a fine affirmation of why John Updike was our American man of letters. Updike deeply loved America, its places and people, and, as exemplified in his Campion Award acceptance speech, its Christian character.

I would see him often in the New England village of Beverly Farms, where he resided: in the library, the bank, the little fruit and cheese shop and, especially, in the corner book store, which he visited last year to autograph his new book. With a gentle nod and a tip of his worn cap, he acknowledged those present and went about doing what he intended. There was never an aura of celebrity or importance, just the sense of a kind and gentle man who happened to drop by.

Carol Ann Roberts Dumond

Prides Crossing, Mass.

Lift Every Voice

Motown may have hit 50 (“That Motown Sound,” 2/16), but its music is still fresh and will continue to influence future generations. I am a boomer, and among my ministries at my local parish is leading the children’s Liturgy of the Word. When the spirit moves me and the Scriptures demand it, I lead the little ones in Curtis Mayfield’s “Amen,” or the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ “O Happy Day” or “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord.” The children love it.

Chris Nunez

Santa Cruz, Calif.

Not So Super

Your commentary on the 2009 Super Bowl (Current Comment, 2/16) failed to note how sexist the commercials were. They were needlessly provocative and not in any way women-friendly.

Donna Proctor

Indianapolis, Ind.

Abortion and Nonviolence

I found James R. Kelly’s article on the pro-life movement (“Finding Renewal,” 2/16) disingenuous. None of the Catholic organizations or individuals noted, despite their disavowal of violence, have had any significant presence or role in the leadership of the movement to end abortion in the United States. Certainly there are members of the peace movement who are also members of the pro-life movement, but that is overlap, not identity. By self-identification, the pro-life movement has not been about war or capital punishment but about abortion and, more recently, euthanasia, crimes against innocent human life that are morally different from a personal decision for nonviolence.

While nonviolence should characterize all private struggles for justice, Catholic teaching does not demand it of public authorities, even with respect to capital punishment. Indeed, it would be moral cowardice for a public authority not to use proportional force to defend the common good when all other remedies have failed (consider World War II). The debate about the necessity of capital punishment in countries like the United States does not change the principle. Abortion and euthanasia, on the other hand, are always and everywhere gravely evil.

Yes, Catholics should defend all life values, and Catholic pro-lifers should use nonviolent means against injustice. Yet just as there are Jesuits and Dominicans and Franciscans, each community with its unique charism, there are different movements to fight different injustices. Claiming that other movements informed the original prolife cause and thus should guide its future orientation is absurd.

Colin B. Donovan

Birmingham, Ala.

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