November 22, 2006: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters on its contents and topics related to Princeton University. We may edit them for length, accuracy, clarity, and civility; brevity is encouraged. Letters, articles, and photos submitted to PAW may be published or distributed in print, electronic, or other forms. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to publish all letters received. Write to PAW, 194 Nassau St., Suite 38, Princeton, NJ 08542; send e-mail to email@example.com
President Tilghman should be congratulated for boldly, even courageously, revealing that Princeton not only has admitted that global warming is a problem, but is also actively engaging in multidisciplinary research to find solutions to cope with it (President’s Page, Oct. 25). After all, these are the days of modern conservatism, when the word “conserve” applies to bank accounts but never to the environment. As the sardonic conservatives tell us: “Folks, those tree-hugging environmental wackos are trying to change the way we live.”
There is little popular awareness that warming is a problem and hence little political will to do anything about it — particularly in the White House, as the rest of the world knows. America is still the only holdout among some 151 nations that have ratified Kyoto as a first step toward a solution to the fossil-fuel problem. Thus, by default we’ve abdicated to sacred market forces as the way to deal with the problem. This of course cannot work, since market forces got us into the mess in the first place.
It’s interesting that my rather sanctimonious generation is so busily engaged in looting future generations on two fronts — massive transfer of their wealth to our pockets in the form of enormous on- and off-balance-sheet federal deficits, and massive ecological debits that will come due on their watch rather than on ours. Sorry, kids: This is your legacy, I’m ashamed to say.
I wonder what nice things future generations will say about us when all these bills come due.
RICHARD C. KREUTZBERG ’59
I must take issue with Peter Grosso ’80’s letter (Oct. 11) regarding “the true gospels.” Mr. Grosso claims that Professor Elaine Pagels’ analysis of the Gospel of Judas (A Moment With, June 7) was full of inaccuracies. Actually, Mr. Grosso’s letter was full of inaccuracies.
I am a physician and surgeon, and not a theologian. However, like many Christians, I am interested in the history of early Christianity and the historical Jesus. None of the so-called canonical gospels was an eyewitness account of Jesus’ life. There were many gospels. The four gospels in the Bible were the ones that Irenaeus vetted as “authentic” around 170 A.D., suppressing in the process many of the so-called gnostic gospels, including the Gospel of Judas. The four gospels that Irenaeus approved (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John) became the canonical gospels of the Bible. The precise authorship of these gospels is still in debate.
The first gospel was that of Mark, and was begun no earlier than 65 A.D., 35 years after Jesus died. The last, that of John, is believed to have been written between 95 and 110 A.D. These are hardly contemporary accounts. In fact, the author of John was likely not even alive when Jesus lived. The language in the gospels of Matthew and Luke implies that they probably stemmed from a common source (the “Q” document or a “sayings” gospel), which argues against their being primary eyewitness accounts. The gospels were written in Greek; Jesus likely spoke Aramaic.
Scripture is not an absolute truth. It is an amalgamation of stories that subsequent authorities, sometimes centuries later, said was the truth. To take the canonical gospels as historical fact is no longer accepted practice by many theologians. Indeed, there are factual inconsistencies between the gospels themselves. And to question the absolute veracity of the gospels does not make one a nonbeliever. It just makes one a contemporary Christian.
My own take on all of this is that there were many gospels, many stories, and we will never know the “entire truth,” as Mr. Grosso calls it. Each of us needs to find what we need in the gospels we read, and to live our lives accordingly. I applaud Professor Pagels for trying to find “the truth” among the many “truths” that have been written. To my mind, she has succeeded very well.
VINCENT P. DE LUISE ’73
There is a legitimate argument behind Richard Greminger ’61’s Sept. 27 letter to PAW [on immigration]; unfortunately, he cannot be bothered to promulgate it. Instead, he invokes the fearfulness that this nation’s enemies would have us always feel. In place of argument, he relies on deception — the kind of falsehood that has predominated in national-security discourse in this country ever since Donald Rumsfeld ’54 returned to the Department of Defense.
Mr. Greminger states, but does not defend, his belief that the United States has “the responsibility to secure its borders for the protection of ... its shared cultural, political, religious, and economic values.” What values are those? Mr. Greminger does not say. Presumably he opposes nihilism, but stating affirmative values would take more energy than he has to spare.
Instead, he focuses on the most rudimentary aspect of the American mission: security. “If we don’t close the door to illegals, we might as well invite Osama to tour the White House with a backpack. ... Remember, the 9/11 terrorists were illegal, also!” This argument centers on the emotional importance of a building — literally, the facade of the state, rather than its foundation. And it occupies the place in the letter that should be filled by some statement of U.S. national values.
Also, it is false. The 9/11 hijackers, in fact, all entered the country legally, with tourist and student visas. (Although four of the 19 slightly overstayed their visas, or neglected to convert them from one type to another, they were all here “easily and lawfully from abroad,” according to the FBI director.) It is dishonest to pretend that immigration policy speaks to the security and intelligence issues raised by the 9/11 attacks.
It is Mr. Greminger who is the nihilist: He is indifferent to facts, and he has forgotten that this is a nation founded on an idea, not a set of symbols.
Editors must do more to prevent blatant deceptions like the final sentence of Mr. Greminger’s letter. I expect a publication centered on a university to guard its own borders more zealously. Bean counters and demagogues, the real threats to democracy, stand ready always to fill the void at the heart of a hollowed-out, Gremingerian national conversation. When alumni forget themselves, schools must take extra measures in service of the nation and its principles.
JIM VON DER HEYDT ’96
Richard Greminger makes it clear that anybody who might disagree with his views on immigration must be one of those politically correct, tree-hugging, open-border, world-government advocates who hate America and love Osama bin Laden. Well, count me in!
On a slightly less sarcastic note, I would have thought that a graduate of a prestigious university could make an argument based on logic, facts, and reason, instead of by making up a straw man and calling him names that define him as wrong instead of proving it. Perhaps I was mistaken.
PAUL KOLODNER ’75
It seems too bad that President Tilghman, in opening the special exhibition honoring the long and laudable connection that Robert Goheen ’40 *48 has had with the University, felt the need to voice a condescending and gratuitous disparagement of earlier generations of teachers and students at Princeton. In suggesting that President Goheen served in an era that “turned a largely homogeneous college of modest aspirations into an intellectual power-house,” she was of course imputing a kind of complaisance and scholarly mediocracy to the post-World War II college that preceded his presidency and, it is to be noted, he himself attended as a student.
At her age, President Tilghman can have no firsthand knowledge of the quality of thought and scholarship on campus at that time. She is echoing a now-familiar stereotype that can be summarized as follows: Without racial and ethnic diversity, and with an all-male student body, an institution cannot possibly have offered the highest-quality education to its students. This self-serving cliché would have come as an offensive surprise to the scholarly professors who stimulated us with their ideas in those years. The English and history courses that my classmates and I took were representative of the first-rate thinking and writing that our teachers manifested then. And it might come as a surprise to a few individuals such as Bacon, Newton, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Kant, Darwin, Whitehead, Russell, et al. that their training, lacking as it did both coeducational and diversity components, could hardly have been of the best.
C. WEBSTER WHEELOCK ’60 *67
I was most gratified to read of Kathy Roth-Douquet *91’s and Frank Schaeffer’s new book AWOL (Books and Arts, Sept. 27), concerning the near-total “disconnect” between the elite upper classes and the U.S. military in this country lately. Congratulations to Ms. Roth-Douquet for eventually “seeing the light,” and especially for writing an important book on this subject of grave concern.
The authors’ contentions strongly reinforce the writings of the brilliant social historian Christopher Lasch in his landmark books, but most pertinently in his last: The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1994).
In the same issue of PAW, note that of the Princeton Class of 2006 who have accepted jobs, nearly half (!) went into financial services — Q.E.D.
GUY TUDOR ’56
Thanks to Katherine Federici Greenwood for the encouraging article, “Full House” (cover story, Oct. 11), about the Green family.
LOU KLAUDER JR. ’58