Letters to the Editor:

Author: Readers

Editor’s note: The letters that appeared in the autumn 2006 print issue are marked with a double asterisk (**).


** I have always disagreed with the sentiment that every alumnus wants to see campus exactly as it was when he graduated, but I must admit that future students will be the poorer for missing one of the sterling advantages my peers and I were afforded—the opportunity to learn from and get to know Professor Robert Leader, who passed away this spring.

Under his guidance, I came to know about the world outside that dark auditorium where we came together three times a week. Together we explored the mysteries of cave paintings, admired the classic profiles of Roman statuary and compared the clerestory lighting in ancient architecture with the buildings of today. I saw the pyramids at Giza at dawn and wandered through Stonehenge with Professor Leader, watching the shadows the stones cast as the sun moved overhead. He shared so much of himself, with the delight he took in the natural world and his fascination with earlier civilizations.

Kit McCarthy Blundo ’76
Winchester, Massachusetts

Just a small correction on the obit of Robert Leader. Approximately 35 years ago I was Professor Leader’s graduate assistant and “slide man” when his course was taught in the computer building. I also can remember taking approximately 300 tests on spring break to Florida and grading them on the beach of Fort Lauderdale.

Stan Lopp ’71M.A.
Syracuse, Indiana

Change Agents

** Your summer issue is by far the best I have ever read. The descriptions of the Notre Dame graduates doing work that is of the highest importance to mankind’s future and unselfish in the extreme does you moral credit of the highest. I particularly commend you for the story by Sheila Provencher ’01M.Div. (“The Pacifist”), who is serving the cause of peace in Iraq. The general absence of public comments by our Catholic university communities about this war, one of the greatest moral issues in America’s history, is appalling and telling.

Bert Metzger Jr. ’55
Seattle, Washington

** Your article on Peter King ’68J.D. (“The Public Servant”) neglects many of his less admirable traits. Until the late 1990s he was an enthusiastic supporter of the IRA. As late as last year he publicly supported the Bush administration’s contention that there was a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He applauded outing Valery Plame. His lack of concern for the First Amendment has been demonstrated time and again—witness his recommendation that members of the media be shot for pursuing Karl Rove and his call for dusting off the 1917 Espionage Act to punish The New York Times for publishing information displeasing to Bush and Cheney.

This puff piece on the congressman ignores all this and presents a distorted picture of a politician who is, in reality, a member of the hard right and, most of the time, a stalwart defender of the policies of one of the most incompetent, arrogant and immoral administrations in this country’s history.

David Costello ’59
Buffalo, New York

** In your summer issue you took several gratuitously deprecatory shots at our own alumni in public service. You note that Peter King supported tax cuts (actually it was tax rate cuts) “that primarily benefitted the rich.” Ironically, on July 8, the day I read the article, it was announced that tax revenues are the highest in years (due to economic expansion fueled by those taxpayers paying at a lower tax rate) and that the deficit is returning to the acceptable 2.5 percent of the GDP. And in “Domers in the News” you note that David Barrett ’59 was honored for his service as Independent Counsel; however, you gratuitously associate that news with the old news on the expense of his service [$23 million] that had ended a year ago and imply that a guilty plea and $10,000 fine for lying to the FBI by one of the investigation’s targets was not worth the expense. These argumentative statements suggest that Michael Moore works for your magazine.

Michael T. Schaefer ’67
Indianapolis, Indiana

The informative profile of Peter King omits one item of significance. For many years his was a lonely Congressional voice protesting mistreatment of Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority. Indeed, it is widely understood that his refusal to join the GOP impeachment posse was a gesture of appreciation for the heavy lifting Bill Clinton had performed in bringing about the Irish peace process.

King has long been a champion of the underdog, including the unborn. It is all the more disappointing and disturbing therefore to note his present role as a leading basher of those amongst us who cut grass, bus tables and pick vegetables.

Tom Mahoney
Buffalo Grove, Illinois

I was intrigued by Sheila Provencher’s work in protecting Iraqis from their own government and coalition forces. I’m curious to know if the Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq is more busy or less busy now than they were when Saddam was in power. I’d also like to hear about the work of CPT in stopping oppression and human rights violations in Iran, Somalia, and North Korea.

Dan Hiltz ’74M.A., ’79Ph.D.
Fort Mitchell, Kentucky

_Editor’s note: More information about the Christian Peacemaker Team can be found on its website at http://www.cpt.org/:http://www.cpt.org/.

Don’t forget Haig
Thought you might want to do some fact-checking on one of the letters in the Summer issue. Maureen Murphy states: “No other ND dorm can boast a former or current U.S. Secretary of State.” However, Alexander Haig, U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, attended Notre Dame his freshman year prior to transferring to West Point and doubtless resided in a dorm. I was unable to figure out which one through my web-surfing, however.

Paul Sidrys ’85
Via email

In her letter published in the Summer edition, Maureen Murphy pointed out that Condoleeza Rice was a former resident of Lewis Hall. She also stated that no other ND dorm can boast a former or current U.S. Secretary of State, but she may be wrong in this regard. I believe that Alexander Haig spent his freshman year at Notre Dame before receiving his appointment to West Point. Of course he didn’t stay around long enough to get an ND degree, but can anybody tell us which hall he lived in?

Alfred O. Myers ’59
Longboat Key, Florida

Editor’s note: Alexander Haig, the 59th Secretary of State who served in the early Reagan administration (from the first inauguration until July 1982), lived in 301 Breen-Phillips during his freshman year (1942–43) at Notre Dame. The student registry for summer 1943 lists him as living in Saint Ed’s, one of four halls designated for civilian students during wartime summer sessions. Haig transferred to West Point to continue his studies that autumn.

** My first concern with “Letting Go of God” is Nancy Mairs’ shaky reasoning. The author criticizes those who adhere to any specific, exclusive understanding of the divine, then proceeds to offer such an understanding herself and to caricature and dismiss opposing views. She ridicules those who believe that God answers prayers or punishes evil and those who see eternal truths in sacred texts. My other concern is that her view is pretty clearly atheistic. To believe in God as only a process of the universe unfolding is not to believe in Him in any meaningful sense at all; it is truly to “let go” of God.

Tim Hurley ’96Ph.D.
Greenville, South Carolina

** The idea of God that Mairs offers as an alternative to that of our Catholic tradition is particularly objectionable. She seems more comfortable with the “enlightened” awareness of Buddhism as a vehicle to and an expression of holiness than the personal God of our Catholic tradition. While we all struggle with our own views of God, surely God’s own revelation of himself through scripture, the tradition of the Church and the magisterium is a more sure starting point than her syncretism. God is a mystery, but he has taken great pains to reveal himself; in sending his Son Jesus, he has intervened decisively in human history. The Acts of the Apostles, a close reading of Church history and personal experience more than suggest He continues to intervene in human affairs. Mairs has not “let go of God.” She has simply let go of sound Catholic teaching.

Tom Lulling ’71
Tempe, Arizona

** Kudos to Notre Dame Magazine for “Letting Go of God.” I hold similar beliefs, and it is affirming to see such views in your magazine. This is of particular moment in our “theocratic” history, which is reminiscent of the era of the Crusades. The counterbalance this article provides is needed. Thank you for publishing it.

Michael D. French ’73
Columbus, Ohio

** Just as I was worried about the issue of academic freedom at Notre Dame, I came upon the excellent article by Nancy Mairs. When you print something so excellent and thought-provoking, I don’t worry so much.

Catharine Stewart-Roache ’62M.A.
Los Luna, New Mexico

Nancy Mairs’ “Letting Go of God” is the best piece of its kind that’s appeared in your pages in quite some time. On the basis of it, I’ve already ordered a book of her essays through Amazon. I know you’ve done this before, but thanks for going with a perspective that’s refreshing, insightful and even at variance with orthodox Catholicism.

Franklin A. (Steve) Morse II ’64J.D.
Suttons Bay, Michigan

Thank you for your wonderful magazine. I was compelled to write to a friend about the Summer 2006 edition and article by Nancy Mairs. I provide it to you below:

The thrust of the article is that others don’t have a true grasp of God, and that it’s not possible to have a true grasp of God, but she gives her own vivid account of who she thinks He (it) is. She starts off by saying, “The need to reduce God to a person having mental states with which we are familiar (desire, anger, humor, etc) does God little service and ourselves even less.” She ends with saying God is “but a mystery for whoever chooses to see it, an inexhaustible source of devout astonishment.” That basically says nothing, but if I had to force it to make sense, she must be saying that we should use our own human senses to know God. She’s lost in a circle of eastern philosophy that is as useless as french and german existentialism. It leads to nowhere and reveals nothing.

She notes that “God does not want.” I disagree. He wants us to know Him and to come closer to Him through Jesus. That’s why He sent His only Son to us. She says: “Better, I think, to embrace chaos . . . And to admit that no Supreme Being stands outside creation taking charge.” I disagree. The Church speaks always of “order,” which allows us to control the instincts planted by original sin. We believe that God created the Heaven and Earth, not that it managed to pop together out of nothing, doing nothing, going nowhere. Our Faith tells us that we will never know everything, but that doesn’t mean we embrace the not-known as proof that God isn’t a guiding hand. A Methodist preacher friend of mine once said that God “holds the reigns of the world loosely.” I think that’s a good image.

She says: “We, like the rest of creation, are in God, of God…….etc.”. I disagree. God created us, Man, to be stewards of nature. We are not supermonkeys. We are not but one equal part of a larger creation. We are special in His eyes. He did not send Jesus to die for the giraffe, but for us, and our sins. The pagans believed God is in the rocks. I’m sure she does too.

She says: “I believe in miracles, but only as random inexplicable events.” Laura Ingraham (great Catholic radio host) would say—BUT MONKEY! Many relativists use the term “but” to be on both sides of an issue (which happens when you don’t have a moral grounding). I believe in the miracles of Jesus, and those of the Saints. They are explained, as proof that God is in our midst and is aware of our needs.

She says (I’m paraphrasing) that we shouldn’t become obedient to God as if God is a tough Father and we are dumb children. I disagree. Obedience is what is lacking today in our world and in our Church. Obedience is the best weapon against the most grave sin of pride. I’d fall down prostrate before Jesus. I respect the men and women who lead our church. I don’t have a “belief system” to give me comfort. I have a belief in a specific Jesus Christ, known to the Apostles, revealed through the Holy Spirit, real in the Eucharist.

She says: “You don’t have to know Jesus Christ to lead a holy life”. I disagree. If you lead a holy life, you DO know Jesus. He is the source of love and all that is Good. Again, we are not God, and we did not create ourselves or our goodness. The one that fell thought he could be god, that he could hold the power of god. That is pride. That is the most grave sin.

I agree with her that many devout Christians can be sanctimonious and annoying. I’m sure I am at times. But her response is to jettison the True God and her understanding of Christ’s holiness because of her perception of humanity, and that’s really hopeless. She actually says she would not be willing to profess the Good News of Christ to a dying man because she’s uncomfortable with the concept of condemnation.

I think that’s the source of her energy—she is not a believer and doesn’t believe we need to be saved. Her answer is to believe in an “elegant chaos” that can be seen when you meditate. If that was the case, then why did Christ die on that cross? Whenever I’m feeling lost or unclear about my faith, I meditate that I’m at the foot of that tree, looking up at my redeemer, saviour, and true friend, thankful and obedient.

Jeffrey Phillips
Washington, D.C.

You and your staff always assemble and print a magazine that is well worth reading, but your summer issue is really outstanding. I especially liked the brief pieces on the various individuals who are making a difference in the world. Given the current world as well as national situation, these accounts are rays of hope. Also, the various reflections on the Sacred were mostly uplifting.

In a separate category altogether, however, is the luminous writing of Nancy Mairs. “Letting Go of God” is profoundly beautiful. It is most gratifying to see expressed so well in print what I and some of my soul friends have been thinking for a long time.

My deep thanks to her for sharing in the written word her insights and to you for publishing her work in your/our magazine.

Barbara Schlotfeldt
Tacoma, Washington

I usually enjoy the well-written, intelligent articles of Notre Dame Magazine, but several aspects of the summer issue troubled me.

The dedication of the issue to the “troublemakers among us” at first made me smile. As Americans we love the independent, the strong, the outspoken in their beliefs. But your description of such people raised some questions in my mind. “They know where the power is. . . . They know when to play the game. . . . They know they are but one piece. . . .” My question is but do they know the truth? History is full of rebels who did not and brought about great harm as a result. Revolution is good only if applied to the betterment of man, the spreading of love, and the elevation of human dignity. To raise rabble-rousing to the level of virtue in and of itself is to hark back to the emotionalism of the ’60s, which was remarkable only for its intensity, self-indulgence and general lack of intelligence.

Essays that serve to further enoughten the mind to the fullness of the truth are what I’ve come to expect from the magazine. “Letting Go of God” did not meet that expectation. Like many of the New Age persuasion, the author claims that all the major religions of the world have it wrong, but she herself knows better. The shallow characterization of Christian beliefs and simplistic stereotyping of believers was disappointing. Your readers deserve better than the musings, however, well-written, of someone who wants to “redeem God.”

Rosemary Bogdan
Ann Arbor, Michigan

What an interesting juxtaposition of the excited hopefulness of Lawrence Cunningham’s reflections on “Meeting the Almighty” and the self-righteousness of Nancy Mairs’ “Letting Go of God.”

Cunningham’s scholarly review on the potential normalcy of the “mystical” includes the consideration that many faithful may experience God’s presence regardless of their religious tradition, and he brilliantly defines in a mere six paragraphs the Christian lifestyle commitment required to be able to know God with the “eyes of faith.”

Mairs’ dismissal of the way “millions of self-identified religious people” understand God within their paradigm smacks of the same divisiveness of which she accuses others. Still, her perspective allows her a “devout astonishment” and appreciation of God around her, which is more than many in our culture can see.

My experience of the intense, personal Love is a God who indeed “wants,” as any lover wants for his beloved, the best He can provide. He “wants” us to live the fullness and joy of life that is only possible by knowing and loving Him and because of Him, others. Know God through His Word. Pray in praise, adoration, thanksgiving and petition throughout the day in your thought, song, word and deed. Share God’s love with every person you meet by small kindnesses such as a smile or touch or quiet prayer and care for those with greater needs. Others will know God through you and you will grow closer to Him.

Thank you, God, for the thought-provoking gift of Notre Dame Magazine.

Margo Minutolo ’80
Cincinnati, Ohio

I was a little surprised to read the article entitled “Letting Go of God” in Notre Dame Magazine. I am not a Bible-pounder, but I hope Notre Dame is not trading its firm foundation in the faith for the fuzzy-wuzzy, self-absorbed philosophy being promoted in this essay. She says “[s]ome people make a religion out their stuckness.” Sounds to me like this person is trying to make a religion out of being lost and confused. That is very sad. But it would even sadder if Notre Dame itself were to lose its way as it walks through the thicket of 21st century secularism and new age angst. This should have been labeled as an essay or op-ed piece to distinguish it as essentially contrary to the mission of the University.

Carolyn K. Gerwin
Pontiac Illinois

There is an inadvertent appropriateness in the title of Nancy Mairs’ article “Letting Go of God.” Whatever qualifications she offers to her initial assertion “I know God,” they don’t seem to jibe with her conclusion: “I don’t think my belief confers meaning to myself or anything else.”

On the other hand, her harangues against religious fundamentalism and the prevailing negative images of God are more persuasive.

Still, the trouble remains; with all her purgings there seems little or nothIng left to be devout about.

Kenneth A. Stier Jr.
Great Neck, New York

If I were not a lawyer, I would be reluctant to publish an opinion on the finer points of constitutional law. If I were not a scientist, I would be reticent to publicly claim extensive knowledge of microbiology. At the very least, in either case I would fear embarrassing myself by my lack of expertise. Yet when it comes to theology, anyone with a word processor feels qualified to pontificate on who God really is. Am I the only one who thinks this is odd?

Nancy Maris’ article “Letting Go of God” is a perfect example. On every page it’s obvious that she is theologically illiterate. I apologize for this harsh choice of words, but it pains me to read theo-babble written by otherwise fine writers operating way outside their area of knowledge. Theology is not a matter of opinion or mere personal reflection, as Ms. Mairs would like us to believe. It is a deeply philosophical science that demands prayer, humility . . . and study.

Greg Jeffrey ’91MBA
Fargo, North Dakota

A son’s story
Just read the article by Paul Johnston, “Saving Grace,” in the summer issue. I want to communicate to him my appreciation for his telling me the story of his father and family. It is not for nothing that he wrote that and that it was published in Notre Dame Magazine. Please extend my thanks to him. I feel encouraged and continue to be in awe of the power of God.

James L. Shumaker ’56
Via mail

I hope you will excuse my avidity in this matter, but I am moved to some additional thoughts about Paul Johnston’s “Saving Grace.” The most interesting thing about his essay is its identification of the modern experience of nihilism. He distinguishes this experience from the “hell” of Jonathan Edwards and the inferno of Dante. He defines nihilism as the evacuation from objective occurrence of the human measures of judgment, justice and protective parental love. He returns to this world to what Simone Weil calls “gravity” and to what Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Santanyana call “_fatum_.” The Darwinian root of this naturalism is obvious. Meaning, liberty, “grace” become part of an altogether different history and becoming.

Johnston’s piece is remarkable for placing this new experience within the comprehension of the Catholic tradition. It points to new understanding of how God is present in different ways in matter and spirit. The modesty of the essay is among its chief virtues, for both humility and experience of divine presence are defined anew.

Joseph Ryan ’59
Yarmouth, Massachusetts

Dietary admonition

In response to “56,000 a Year Die from Colon Cancer,” I wish to point out that by avoiding the consumption of all animal products and instead eating a very low-fat, vegetarian diet you will go a very long way toward avoiding colon cancer as well as other cancers and diseases.

Stephen Klement ’56
Yardley, Pennsylvania

Missing Grace Hall
How disappointing that the wreath of “Hall Marks” gracing the glossy intended for alums failed to include the Grace Hall icon; almost an anticlimax to my experience on campus for the Liturgy Conference in June.

In 1983 my son stepped into the reception area of Grace Hall, his home for the next four years, and, pointing to a plaque on the wall, remarked: “My name will be there in four years.” It was the hallmark of those from Grace Hall who graduated summa cum laude. On campus for the annual Liturgy Conference, I inquired at the HR office, now resident in Grace, of the whereabouts of the plaque of Summas with my son’s name engraved on it. No one had any idea what I was talking about.

Not only has all trace of the summas disappeared, apparently the “hall”mark has as well. How sad.

Patricia Ernst, parent of alums: Raymond ’85, Robert ’87, Jonathan ’99 and Sarah ’04
Via email

String theory
Just want to extend my kudos for an extremely well written article in the spring issue by Chet Raymo under the title of “Unreal”. I now understand (for the first time, after reading soooo many other explanations of the cosmos and the string theory by technically arrogant writers!) what is going on in and around me . . . well, sort of . . .

Thanks and keep up the great work ND!!

Al Birge
Via email