Tar-Heel Tolerance
Additional support for Hugo Adam Bedau's argument that public support for capital punishment is dwindling [“Death's Dwindling Dominion,” July 2004] comes from a new poll in North Carolina that Doble Research Associates has recently published. When given a choice between sentencing murderers to death or to life in prison without parole, plus a requirement that they work and make restitution to a fund for victims' families, support for capital punishment drops dramatically. When people have this option, only 26 percent support the death penalty; 64 percent favor life in prison plus restitution. Without that option, 59 percent of the people of North Carolina favor the death penalty.

Further, by a margin of 63 percent to 28 percent, North Carolinians favor a temporary, two-year suspension on executing people on death row while the system's fairness is studied. Support for a suspension extends to all corners of the state, and includes men and women, Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, and adults of every age and education level.

John Doble

President, Doble Research Associates Inc.

Englewood Cliffs, NJ

The Christians: Right
I find myself fitting Robert Reich's description of a fundamentalist Christian [“Bush's God,” June]. Reich states that people who are devout in their allegiance to a higher authority, and who believe that that higher authority requires allegiance from all humans, are a greater “danger” than terrorists. He succeeded in getting my attention.

It is nothing new for humanists and the religious to be at odds. But never before have I read an argument calling devout Christians more dangerous than terrorists. Our society will be better, in part, because of those who believe they owe their allegiance to a higher authority, just as it will be better, in part, because of those who believe in the primacy of the individual.

Terrorism may be a “tactic,” but it is, and will be, far more dangerous to than the “battle” Reich describes.

W.C. Wood

Albany, NY

As an evangelical Christian, I find myself on what Robert Reich calls the “anti-modernist” side of contemporary conflicts. I suspect most of the moderate to liberal evangelicals recently profiled in your magazine by Ayelish McGarvey [“Reaching to the Choir,” April] would find themselves on the anti-modernist side as well. This surprises and troubles me, as I consider myself not only a modernist but also a strong Democrat, a defender of the separation of church and state, and a long admirer of Reich's writings.

As a Christian, I accept the Bible as the authoritative word of God and believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth. At the same time, I recognize that these views are not held universally. Many people reject religion altogether, while those who believe in God disagree among themselves as to which religion is the true faith. I join with the secular liberals in believing such differences must be settled, if at all, through discussion and persuasion rather than through coercion.

The real conflict is not between secular modernists and religious anti-modernists. Those who would impose onto others their vision of truth -- whether secular or religious -- pose the real threat.

Michael Hayes

Professor of Political Science, Colgate University

Hamilton, NY

Still AARPing
William Novelli's response [“AARP Elbows,” July] to Barbara T. Dreyfuss' article “The Seduction” [June] is interesting in light of AARP's support of the Medicare prescription-drug bill, which included the ban on Medicare's ability to use AARP's numbers as clout to negotiate lower drug prices. I noticed in the past week that AARP spokesmen have been wringing their hands over the fate of the “poor seniors” who should be allowed to buy their drugs from Canada. What a bunch of hypocrites!

AARP's No. 1 goal has been to make a profit from its insurance business and its own prescription-drug cards. If it truly supported what is best for seniors, it would have fought tooth and nail to include language in the bill allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prices with drug companies. All it has accomplished with this boondoggle of a bill is to allow drug companies to continue to ratchet up prices while offering confusing and inefficient Band-Aids to seniors and calling it “prescription cost relief.”

Sandi Campbell

Asheboro, NC

Should've Read It
In her article “Silence of the Flock” [June], Mary Gordon inaccurately accuses Catholic liberals of not speaking out about the alleged anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Perversely, Gordon cites an article by John Coleman in Commonweal, “Mel Gibson Meets Marc Chagall: How Christians & Jews Approach the Cross” (Feb. 27), as being “most offensive to me by a long chalk.”

Readers of The American Prospect would never suspect that Coleman's essay cautioned that “because of the way the cross has been misused, it is a problematic icon … it has too often served as an abetment for those who accuse Jews of being Christ killers.” Coleman continued: “After the Holocaust, the cross can only be a deep personal confession. It can never presume to speak for any other victim, or to impose its symbolic power on an unwilling other.”

Nor would readers of The American Prospect suspect that our editorial in the same issue stated, “It is hardly surprising that Jews are made uncomfortable by, even deeply suspicious of, a movie whose dramatic logic and energy focus on the extreme violence of Jesus' death. Historically, who has been blamed for that death?” Gordon makes no mention of Rabbi Irving Greenberg's article “Anti-Semitism in ‘The Passion,''' which appeared in our May 7 issue, criticizing official Church “silence” about the film's portrayal of Jews.

For the record, Commonweal first began expressing concern about anti-Semitism in Gibson's film in our March 28, 2003, issue, a full year before the film's release.

If Mary Gordon is going to criticize Commonweal, she should read it.

Paul Baumann

Editor, Commonweal

Mary Gordon responds:
Perhaps Mr. Baumann has failed to read carefully the Coleman article on The Passion of the Christ, which includes the words, near the beginning, “I judged the version I saw free from explicit anti-Semitism.” Whatever follows in the article must be read in this context.

In “The Wrong Target” by Jason Vest from our April issue, the author described certain material as being from “a soon-to-be-published memoir” by Mahdi Obeidi, one of Saddam Hussein's leading scientists. In fact, that material was drawn from an agent's proposal for the memoir circulated to publishers that Vest obtained; the material may or may not be included in the published book.

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