Bill Keller implies that all priests are lonely and that celibacy “surely” contributed to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Sadly, his column was based largely on the opinions of two former priests and a former sister, and his own speculation. That’s like basing an article on married life on the opinions of a few divorced men and women.
The latest survey of priests by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (in 2009) shows that 95 percent would “definitely or probably choose priesthood again.” Wow, pretty lonely.
As for celibacy leading inexorably to sexual abuse, while the causes of the terrible abuse crisis in the church are complex, most sexual abuse occurs in families, but few people would say that marriage leads to abuse. To take a more well-known example, the abuse crisis at Penn State can hardly be pinned on a celibate clergy.
(Rev.) JAMES MARTIN New York, Dec. 2, 2013
The writer, a Jesuit priest, is editor at large for America magazine.
The view that we know a priori that certain kinds of actions are wrong in absolutely all circumstances irrespective of their consequences has been generally discarded by philosophers, but there is an alternative, more defensible view which is commonly opposed to utilitarianism of any variety. It is the theory put forward in Great Britain by Sir David Ross, according to which we have, independently of the good or evil produced, not, indeed, obligations which hold absolutely in all cases but what he calls "prima facie duties." What is meant by a prima facie duty is an obligation which we ought to fulfil, other things being equal, but which may be overridden by a superior obligation, so that, except in the cases where only one prima facie duty is involved, we have to determine what is absolutely right by balancing against each other different prima facie duties and trying to decide between them. The prima facie duties include certain obligations to produce good, but they include also, as ultimate, obligations to keep promises, to make reparation for wrong done, to show gratitude, and to assign just rewards and punishments. While Ross, of course, admits that the fulfilment of these obligations is likely to do good, he does not base their obligatoriness on the amount of good they produce, and holds that there are cases where it is our duty, for example, to keep a promise though we might do more good by breaking it, as far as we can possibly foresee. Other obligations may therefore clash with those based entirely on the production of good, and in that case it will not necessarily follow that the latter are to be fulfilled. We cannot say either that we ought always without exception to keep promises or that we ought always to break them when this course is the most conducive to the production of good. We are left by Ross to decide each case on its own merits.
(A. C. Ewing, "Utilitarianism," Ethics 58 [January 1948]: 100-11, at 110)
Prof. Richard A. Muller (“The Truth About Tornadoes,” Op-Ed, Nov. 21) writes that “strong to violent tornadoes have actually been decreasing for the past 58 years, and it is possible that the explanation lies with global warming.” However, a primary reason that the intensity of tornadoes has appeared to decline is that reporting has not been consistent over the period spanned by tornado records.
It is well known in the meteorological community that tornado intensities were overrated in the 1950s to 1970s and underrated in the last decade. For example, research-grade Doppler radars measured winds over 280 miles per hour, rated EF5 on the enhanced Fujita scale, in last May’s monstrous Oklahoma tornado that Professor Muller refers to. However, the official National Weather Service rating, which ignores the radar observations in favor of damage indicators, is EF3 (136 to 165 m.p.h.).
Because of the inconsistency in the records, it is not known what effect global warming is having on tornado intensity.
PAUL MARKOWSKI HAROLD BROOKS State College, Pa., Nov. 26, 2013
Dr. Markowski is a professor of meteorology at Penn State University. Dr. Brooks is a senior research scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory.
Note from KBJ: The letter writers must not have gotten the memo to the effect that everything counts in favor of global warming.
Re “In Defense of a Loaded Word,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Sunday Review, Nov. 24): Nothing of much use would be lost to the world if the word “nigger” fell out of everyday usage, as words do and have done since humankind developed speech—hence the word archaic [sic; this word is being mentioned, not used, so it should be enclosed in quotation marks] after some dictionary entries.
How common is it to hear the word “buckra,” a derogatory term for white men developed during slavery? Not very. Trying to save “nigger,” but insisting that it be used only in certain contexts, won’t do. It can’t be policed, certainly not by reference to context—often invoked after the fact to explain away some mistake.
The football player Richie Incognito evidently thought his use of the term legitimate in the “context” of trying to toughen up his teammate, a goal that people in that business seem to think worthy. This defense does not do away with double standards. It simply privileges some over others.
Apparently, the argument goes, the word can be used by blacks when expressing affection, but not by white people (or black people?) who are angry. Anger is a legitimate emotion. If we accept the proffered argument, why can’t the word be used in a show of anger?
Of course, no one has the power to ban a word. Still, there would be nothing wrong with just letting it go the way of “buckra.”
Yesterday evening, Katherine and I watched Spy Game (2001), which stars 65-year-old Robert Redford and 38-year-old Brad Pitt. I didn't like the movie. I'm not a fan of spy movies, and this one was particularly hard to understand. It was one of those flashback movies that starts at a particular time, then flashes way back and moves forward to where it started. Just show me the events in chronological order, please. The movie was too fast-paced in parts and too slow-paced in others. I grew sick to death of the conversations in the CIA's war room, and the jocularity between Redford and Pitt became tiresome. Redford is a great actor. Pitt, not so much. I doubt that I'll remember this movie a month from now, much less five years from now.
Wintry weather is headed our way (North Texas). Luckily for me, it did not affect my regular Wednesday ride. In fact, the weather was gorgeous. I had a great time on the bike as I cruised along the trail in River Legacy Parks. My average speed for 30.6 miles was 17.60 miles per hour, which is the fastest I've gone since Hotter 'n Hell Hundred in Wichita Falls in late August (just before my crash). My average heart rate today was 130. I reached 168 on a climb in the final two miles. (I haven't seen a heart rate that high in several years.) Bring on the snow! (The image in this post—click to enlarge—shows the Trinity River at the 21-mile mark of my ride.)
As a millennial born in 1991 who is serving a yearlong global health fellowship in rural Haiti, I read the article with bewilderment and fascination. What makes my generation so different from all prior generations and those still to come? Doesn’t each generation struggle with balancing meaning and happiness, work and play, selfish interests and communal obligations?
Compromises, false starts, mistakes and chased dreams are nothing new. We may move with our heads half-buried in our texts and smartphones, but we are all more alike than different.
Relax, parents; we’ll turn out O.K. I’d even wager that millennials won’t be the last generation grappling with the question of life’s meaning.
SAMUEL WARE Thomassique, Haiti, Dec. 1, 2013
To the Editor:
Millennials may have a higher calling, but some people may not have the patience to deal with their impatience.
Millennials, also known as Generation Y, live in an amped-up, mobile and social-media-heavy world. They’re very smart, tech savvy, highly collaborative and in some ways transparent. But many often don’t want help. Offer it, and you’d better “wow” them in two or three seconds or get tuned out. Presenting an idea or help with subtlety sometimes works.
Perhaps their style engine is simply their way of dealing with the older generation. Each generation has its ways.
But reciprocity helps fuel positive, healthy and enduring relationships, both personal and business. (Millennials themselves wouldn’t put up with their behavior if it came from someone else.) But let’s give them a break; our parents gave us one.
LAWSON Y. GLENN Atlanta, Dec. 1, 2013
To the Editor:
It is heartening to read that the millennial generation aspires to careers with a larger meaning rather than simply material success. But the tendency of the research mentioned in the article to equate meaningful work with explicitly altruistic goals reinforces a dichotomy that may undermine the very search for meaning.
Equating what is meaningful with the goal of working for others in the service professions often leads us to overlook the deeply personal and self-interested side of such work, as if self-interest were something to be shelved, or shamefully shunned in the service of something higher.
Equally, the implication that those with careers geared to material success are not potentially contributing powerfully to larger social ends can lead to a kind of moralistic scorn for those choices—and blindness to what and how those people may contribute.
The human “search for meaning” is not limited to those who declare that they want to pursue something “meaningful.” Beyond the surface, it entails a complex, often covert intertwining of both self-interested and altruistic goals and consequences.