To the Editors
As a design person I want to extend belated congratulations to you for the attractive and distinctive covers you have produced in recent months. My favorite journal of opinion has gone through many stages in my years as a subscriber and sometime contributer, pretty bland when I started back in the early '60s, but now--wow!
Keep up the good work. The content has always been excellent, but now you have covers that rival those of the big-budget guys on the magazine racks!
RUSSELL W. GIBBONS Pittsburgh, Pa.
Where there's smoke...
Your editorial on teenage sexual behavior ("Abstinence, Anyone?" January 26, 2001) treats constant sexual activity as something that's invariably necessary to normal human functioning.
There's another model, however, one well understood in days when clerical celibacy was more universally honored and when, indeed, many lay persons of both sexes chose to remain unmarried. Today, such a model sounds weird, or impossible, or out of touch with the TV-engineered collective consciousness we call "reality." But we should give it a try.
Most of my friends used to smoke constantly and enthusiastically. Then came a change in national consciousness. All have now given up smoking, though if you'd asked them thirty years ago, most would have said they considered it a necessity of life.
I know the objections to the analogy: Sex is an instinctual drive, while smoking is not....Yet the crucial thing is that when it comes to smoking, there has been a remarkable alteration of social attitude. Today, smoking is a choice that is made, if at all, only after long and mature consideration of its possible consequences. This is the perspective, it seems to me, that needs to be brought back into discussions of sexuality. It's a consumerist ideology in which sexual activity seems as "necessary" to existence as eating or breathing.
For the record, Luke Timothy Johnson's article ("A Disembodied 'Theology of the Body,'" same issue) seemed to me an almost pure expression of the "ideology of sex," which has brainwashed most Americans. In terms of my analogy, it makes the pope into something like a nonsmoker in a room filled with people who are happily lighting up. It's all right if the man doesn't want to smoke, but why does he keep bothering us about it?
WILLIAM C. DOWLING Princeton, N.J.
Untrue & unjust
I wasn't in the audience at the Interfaith Center of New York, but a tape of the discussion of Constantine's Sword was broadcast on C-Span 2, making clear how badly Paul Baumann mischaracterizes the event in his column ("Catholicism & Anti-Semitism," Feruary 9, 2001).
Baumann calls the discussion "a smug, liberal caterwauling." Untrue and unjust.
He accuses James Carroll of writing "too often" in "upscale magazines and newspapers like the New Yorker," playing "to the worst suspicions of those who are either wholly ignorant of Catholicism or passionately disaffected from the church." Untrue and unjust.
Mary Gordon was shaking with nerves and speaking in a low hesitant voice, but Baumann claims she "goaded" the audience into "an orgy of anti-Catholic speechifying."
Baumann misquotes Mary Gordon and distorts her comments throughout the article. His rage at her is without "any sense of proportion," and he owes her an apology.
Baumann derides and attempts to discredit efforts to understand the church's long and shameful history of anti-Semitism. His article will surely earn him invitations to more congenial discussions, that is, if Mother Angelica reads Commonweal.
G. H. WEIL Chesterfield, Mo.
The author replies:
G.H. Weil makes serious accusations but presents no evidence to support them. It is possible that I misheard a word or two of Mary Gordon's talk, but I have no doubt that I accurately conveyed the substance and tenor of her remarks. …