National Catholic Reporter
Subscribers only section
May 16, 2003

LettersPledge of allegiance

I recently read “House votes to support ‘under God’ in pledge” in the Briefs of your April 4 issue. I am proud to read that the House of Representatives denounced a federal court ruling that would prohibit the phrase “under God” to be recited. No matter how anyone interprets the phrase, church and state cannot be totally separate. Regardless of what religious conviction or lifestyle we believe in, some amount of faith has to be evident in our lifestyle. I think it would be a shame to change the phrase around because it would support a faithless routine of everyday life.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of the article was how the plaintiff argued that his daughter’s religious freedoms were violated by being forced to recite or listen to the pledge. It seems evident from my standpoint that religion has to be accepted by the person. How is religion forced onto someone? Isn’t religion supposed to be your own belief? From my own experience, it seems absurd that reciting or even hearing words like God, Allah or Jehovah could corrupt my own beliefs. For one to truly believe in some type of faith, they clearly have to understand the values and identities within the particular religion. Changing a few words in a pledge will not keep curious minds from investigating the meaning behind them; only strong convictions in your faith will reject other beliefs.

Dubuque, Iowa

The unseen faces of war

I’d like to thank Jesuit Fr. Raymond A. Schroth, for having the courage to write “Calamities of War” (NCR, April 4). Having been in the peace movement for half of my life, I, too, reflect on the human faces that the media refuses either to televise or publish.

Dix Hills, N.Y.

America and Easter

Easter, the day of resurrection, day of new life, is an orphan in our culture of death. Like an orphan without home or family, Easter Sunday wanders about unrecognized and ignored. The symbols of new life -- colored eggs, flowers newly bloomed, baby chicks -- are there, but the substance is missing.

A society that applauds war as we do, a society that willingly hangs, gasses, electrocutes and poisons its offenders; a society that has lost interest in rehabilitation of its imprisoned doesn’t understand Easter at all. It doesn’t understand Easter because it doesn’t believe in change, at least not from within. It doesn’t believe in conversion. It doesn’t believe in repentance and renewal of life. It doesn’t believe in resurrection. It doesn’t believe in Easter.

Ironically, it only believes that death changes things. If you kill the offender, if you unleash your murderous army, then you will insure life.


* * *

An Easter message sent to the White House: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

And what does it profit the United States to gain the whole world -- as it loses its soul -- of government by consent?

Bush may neither read nor heed this, but we live in a time when government by consent must be a principle extended to the whole world or the United States will lose everything it cherishes -- and the people will not consent.

Farmington, N.M.

Setting the record straight

I cannot allow the historical misapprehensions of Stephen A. Venturini (NCR, April 18) to go unchallenged.

The terror in the Middle East did not begin in 1978 with the Iranian seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. It began with the Crusades when the Christians decided to liberate “the Holy Land from the infidel.” Visitors to the Middle East are still regaled by Arabs with tales of historical cruelties allegedly practiced upon Arabs in the name of Christianity. Our bad reputation exists. Whether it is true is not relevant to the present condition. If the Arabs believe it, then it is true to them.

For the next seven centuries periodic attempts by Europeans to dominate Middle Eastern culture or trade were thrown back until the French invaded Egypt, and Britain followed. Commencing at the turn of the 20th century, Zionism got a foothold. For the next 40 years Jews, mostly from Europe, moved to Palestine. Arabs watched that country change from five percent European to 35 percent by 1947 when the Zionists were able to drive out the remainder of British rule and become a nation.

The existence of Israel is regarded as an insult by Arabs.

As a nation, Israel staged a preemptive strike against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. In six days Israel conquered the West Bank of the Jordan River and physically annexed it. Then it began to colonize it by building Jewish settlements, driving out native Arabs without compensation for the lands taken.

Yes, Arabs have been fighting back against the West for almost 10 centuries. Mr. Venturini catalogs many of those incidents and decries them. As does everyone. However, the struggle of Arabs against the West does not warrant a preemptive strike by the United States. All we need do is ramrod a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Then the sore of terrorism will be on the road to healing.

San Francisco

On the morality of attacking

I applaud the president’s taking action against the evil in Iraq. I feel the consequence of inaction would be detrimental to the world. Saddam could have avoided all of this had he complied with the U.N. resolution.

I remember as a boy seeing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain coming off the plane waving the piece of white paper that Hitler had signed agreeing to no more aggression for the return of part of Czechoslovakia to Germany. Shortly thereafter, Germany’s invasion of Poland began World War II.

America stayed out of it because of the isolationism prevalent at the time. Japan had invaded China in the 1930s and we did nothing. Only after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, did we enter into World War II.

The Israel-Palestine problem must be resolved. Palestine must be independent. Israel has the right to exist. The vast majority of Muslims in the world are peaceful people who never engage in terror. This is entirely accurate, and entirely irrelevant. The vast majority of Germans living in the Nazi era were also peaceful; very few even so much as laid a hand on a Jew.

Edmund Burke said, “If good men do nothing, evil will prosper.”

Walnut Creek, Calif.

* * *

This Persian Gulf War II, which I consider to be illegal, immoral and wrong -- no matter what good was borne of it -- brought home to me how faithless Christians have become in reference to killing and war. The vast majority of Americans are nominal Christians, yet 75 percent of them approve of this war even in the face of its negation of every just war theory we know and over the objection of every religious leader outside of the Southern Baptist Convention.

It matters not at all to these Christians that nowhere in the New Testament is there any justification for killing even for the sake of justice and protection of the neighbor. And while tradition and experience are important factors in interpreting scripture, they cannot be used to destroy its essential thrust. The paradigmatic example of Jesus Christ is one of absolute nonviolence.

It was Gandhi who said that the only ones who don’t know that Jesus was absolutely nonviolent are Christians.


Imprisoning children

April 25, ABC news did a story about four children being held at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay. Their ages are 16, 15, 14 and 13.

Through the media, I have learned that most of the people there have been held for more than a year. Does this mean that these children were 15, 14, 13 and 12 years old when they arrived? My God, a 12-year-old and not only taken from family, but also taken from Afghanistan and flown to Guantanamo Bay.

This country has sunk to a new low. The government is already trying its own children in courts as adults, and even worse, executing them. Now the “good old U.S. of A.” is stealing children from other countries!

Is there anyone out there in the community that can do something about this horrific situation?

Norfolk, Mass.

Remembering Bob Hoyt

Thanks to Robert Hoyt (1922-2003), my personal desire to find a degree of truth about national, international, ecclesial, political and environmental matters was met each week by delivery of NCR.

One fact not mentioned in the Robert Hoyt obituary (NCR, April 25) was the influence of Fr. Donald Hessler, a prophetic Maryknoll priest who spent his adult life in Latin America. Hessler was a personal friend of the Hoyts. Before launching such a daring endeavor as a new and independent newspaper, Bob and Bernadette discussed their fears with Fr. Hessler.

“Live as if you are stepping off a cliff” was the nudge that enabled Robert and Bernadette Hoyt and associates to bring forth a weekly journalistic continuation of our search for truth.

Lafayette, La.

Priestly identity

In the NCR article on priestly identity (NCR, April 25), Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb is quoted as having been told years ago that a priest should be holy, healthy and learned.

Curiously, an axiom among Benedictines about to elect an abbot to guide the community suggests they select someone Ne numis sapiens, ne nimis sanctus et ne nimis sanus, someone not too smart, not too holy and not too healthy. The idea being that to be a compassionate, patient and understanding leader, one must be able to commiserate with the companions in their pilgrimage. The history of our flawed organization and the current conditions in the church suggest that neither the clergy nor the hierarchy are above the profanum vulgus, are above the “common crowd.” They just think and act like they are.

Blender, Wis.

Proposed tax cuts

Is America of the people, by the people, for the people? Is America not becoming of the corporations and the rich, by the corporations and the rich, for the corporations and the rich?

I am greatly disturbed by the president’s determination to give a tax cut of $726 billion to large corporations and the rich when he has to know that millions of our children live in poverty and often go to bed hungry each night. That kind of money needs to go to poor families so they can feed their children nutritious meals. This tax cut is unconscionable in the light of poverty in our country and even in the light of world hunger.

Nashville, Tenn.

* * *

Conservative Republicans are for cutting spending for most everything except defense. Could their big tax cuts for the rich and increased military spending be an intentional effort to run up huge deficits so that the top priority spending cuts will be social programs for the needy? Social programs are not needed in their ideal “survival of the fittest” society. Plutocratic Republicans seem to believe that everything America is or will ever be we owe to them.

Former President Lyndon Baines Johnson unsuccessfully tried to fight two wars at the same time -- the Vietnam War and a War on Poverty. The War on Poverty was the right war to fight at that time. It is the height of arrogance for the Bush administration to suggest that we can fight international terrorism, North Korea, Iran or anybody else while the needy in our own country suffer from a deficit-driven, failing economy and cuts in needed social programs. How can we glibly ask God to bless an America that concocts a disastrous guns over butter recipe?

Louisville, Ky.

Electronic NCR

Only my second issue using the new “face” of NCR as an electronic subscriber after reading for free for some years. This is the best $40 I have spent, ever. The content is of the usual high standard and most of all the e-paper is so easily filed for future reference. There is The Tablet and there is NCR -- you have my vote.

Macleod, Victoria, Australia

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National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 2003