The July 22 front-page article "New vets center to fight 'lethal absence of hope'" speaks eloquently to a core function of faith in our public conversation, the need for hope.
A number of articles and letters to the editor have recently addressed a number of church/state questions — religious influence and religious civic problems and issues. Can the president of the United States be a good Roman Catholic if he supports abortion? What about those church-run schools in Canada that failed so tragically the Indian populations entrusted to their care? Where does civic interaction and religious freedom go astray? Can a religious community be forced to violate their beliefs or lose the funding for their social work efforts if the civic community has changed its mind about an issue?
Beneath these issues lies the big question: What gives us hope? For as philosopher William James said, virtually all the big decisions of our lives involve a leap of faith and a stepping out into what we hope for and have hope in.
Evidence? Of course. Scientific evidence? Of course. As a Christian, I personally consider climate scientists, for example, to be some of God's modern-day prophets: the Lord telling us through them, in true biblical fashion, that unless we change our ways, this is where things are going to go ... so shape up!
The mind-set that assumes religious faith to be a blind, irrational, unthinking acquiescence to external dogma misses the reality that faith is in fact the end step of what experience and reasoning brings us to, and often the beginning rather than the ending of knowledge. As St. Augustine put it: "I believe in order that I may know."
It is what we believe in that gives us hope.
Hope that life has a meaning and purpose, hope that every life matters and hope that despite the worst that the world can dish out, goodness and justice and love are real and not illusions. These are the things that have pulled people through our times of chaos and darkness — on personal and societal levels — time and time again. These are values that have survived the collapses of entire civilizations. And each is a leap of faith.
Their absence would indeed be lethal.
Leonard Freeman, Long Lake
The writer is a retired Episcopal priest.
Don't editorialize on our ballots
Ballot referendum questions are usually phrased to get the answers desired by those who phrase them ("Clash over Mpls. ballot wording," front page, July 22). The phrasings suggested by our city leaders for the upcoming election are so convoluted they will never get accurate responses. Obtaining the real views of citizens requires questions that are clearly worded and not biased. There is a science to writing such questions which has been known for many years — going back, at least, to Stanley Payne's classic, "The Art of Asking Questions." Questions must only be interpretable in one way, and must not be leading toward a specific response. For example, a question that asks, "Do you believe the police should be defunded?" will, likely, get about 20% to 30% more "yes" responses than if the question is worded, "Do you believe the police should be defunded or do you not believe this?" It's relatively easy to get unambiguous questions by testing them carefully with representative segments of the population and asking how they interpret the question. If our city leaders really care about what people think and want, they should go to this effort and have professionals involved in the process, rather than writing questions that lean in the direction of the responses they desire.
Doug Berdie, Minneapolis
The proposal by Bob Carney Jr. ("City needs annual elections, and a GOP," Opinion Exchange, July 21) that Minneapolis elections should be yearly is provocative — but not well thought out.
It is said that members of the U.S. House are told upon election and return to Washington, D.C., that their first job is to start working on their re-election campaign! Their election cycle is two years in duration. It is not difficult to imagine that elected municipal officials facing yearly elections would hardly have time to learn their jobs, much less perform them, given the inevitable pressure to campaign and raise funds.
Think, too, of the poor voters, besieged yearlong with attack ads and pleas for money, year after year. My guess is that a predictable outcome of such an arrangement might be further diminished election turnout.
On the other hand, those officials with their hands full of re-election campaign duties might therefore not have sufficient time to get into much mischief!
John D. Tobin Jr., St. Paul
Welcome. Mind the Taser.
Imagine two sides of the street at the corner of 5th Street and Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. On one side, Downtown Improvement District ambassadors stand ready to welcome and help you. On the other — on the light rail platform — a transit "ambassador" stands, 20 years old and armed with a Taser. This is the new reality being rolled out by Metro Transit ("Ramping up security as riders return," front page, July 15).
We need to reimagine Twin Cities transit. That means transformative investments to improve service and means figuring out how to make transit a welcoming environment for all. One idea considered, but not passed, by the state Legislature — and supported by advocates and business representatives alike — was to hire non-police transit personnel to connect riders with services, provide a nonthreatening and reassuring presence on trains, and check fares. This model draws from best practices on Portland's, San Francisco's and Philadelphia's transit systems and from numerous downtown ambassador programs.
Metro Transit's decision to approximate these community-based programs by hiring — and arming, with Tasers — law enforcement students is perplexing at best, and at worst could further stigmatize transit at a time when the future of our communities and our climate depend on increasing transit ridership. Metro Transit should scrap the Tasers and treat people who put their feet on the seat like human beings, not like criminals.
Sam Rockwell, Minneapolis
The writer is executive director at Move Minnesota.
Free trade promotes freedom
After more than six decades of the failed embargo against Cuba, Fidel Castro is gone but the crush of communism remains. President Joe Biden is mistaken to now hope slapping on even more sanctions are the answer to Cuba's human rights abuses. He's merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic ("U.S. imposes new Cuba sanctions over human rights abuses," July 22).
In my interview with Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman for Minnesota Law & Politics from 2000, I asked him, "Regarding free trade, you have gone as far as saying, 'Few measures that we could take would do more to promote the cause of freedom at home and abroad than complete free trade.' Why is this so important?"
Friedman explained, "Because it introduces competition from abroad to supplement competition at home. Embargoes don't work; they never have. The effect of the embargo on Cuba is to hurt the ordinary people of Cuba and to reduce the possibility of a change in the character of the Cuban government. A free flow of goods from the United States would do more to destroy Castro than anything else you can think of."
I agree with Friedman; the embargo against Cuba is a failure. Tinkering around the margins of the restrictions already in place won't change that fact. It won't help Cubans controlled under communism. In fact, after decades of disappointment, the United States should be exploring how to lift the embargo. Will Rogers comes to mind: "When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging."
Steven D. Reske, Minnetonka
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