Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Mocking the Holy Father on Iraq

I have no beef with a moral, political, or theological philosophy which believes in:
  • legal protection of the unborn
  • a belief in the authority of scripture, if not biblical literalism
  • minimal regulation and taxation
  • calling society to repentance for its approach to sexual gratification outside M-F marriage
Indeed, I hold all of these to be positive things. Nonetheless, I hold that there is a philosophy which pays lip service to these ideals but in the end goes on an entirely different track. It's called neoconservatism.

Maybe the way it spreads stems from a "dance with those who them that brought ya" ethic. If a politician touches on some of those ideals, support him in all he does. Most notable is the buildup to Iraq, how so many were able to set aside their value system to support an evil thing. It's not merely a mismanaged thing, but an evil thing from the start.

First of all, consider these three missives from the Vatican. I am highly respectful of the views of former pope John Paul II. He's probably in the top four of the Christian writers whom have been formative in my religious worldview. Let us consider one of his formal statements on the Iraq war and two missives from the Vatican during the period immediately before the start.

The Church speaks out


    Wednesday, 19 February 2003

    The Holy See is convinced that even though the process of inspections appears somewhat slow, it still remains an effective path that could lead to the building of a consensus which, if widely shared by Nations, would make it almost impossible for any Government to act otherwise, without risking international isolation. The Holy See is therefore of the view that it is also the proper path that would lead to an agreed and honorable resolution to the problem, which, in turn, could provide the basis for a real and lasting peace.

    "War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations" (Address of Pope John Paul II to the Diplomatic Corps, 13 January 2003).

    On the issue of Iraq, the vast majority of the international community is calling for a diplomatic resolution of the dispute and for exploring all avenues for a peaceful settlement. That call should not be ignored. The Holy See encourages the parties concerned to keep the dialogue open that could bring about solutions in preventing a possible war and urges the international community to assume its responsibility in dealing with any failings by Iraq.

    Mr. President, before concluding this statement, allow me to echo in this Chamber of peace the hope-inspiring words of John Paul II’s Special Envoy to Iraq: "Peace is still possible in Iraq and for Iraq. The smallest step over the next few days is worth a great leap toward peace".

    I thank you, Mr. President.


    Monday, 13 January 2003
    "NO TO WAR"! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between States, the noble exercise of diplomacy: these are methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences. I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons and of the all-too-numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity. At Christmas, Bethlehem reminded us of the unresolved crisis in the Middle East, where two peoples, Israeli and Palestinian, are called to live side-by-side, equally free and sovereign, in mutual respect. Without needing to repeat what I said to you last year on this occasion, I will simply add today, faced with the constant degeneration of the crisis in the Middle East, that the solution will never be imposed by recourse to terrorism or armed conflict, as if military victories could be the solution. And what are we to say of the threat of a war which could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the Prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than twelve years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations.


    Therefore, engaging in a preventive war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions. International legitimacy for the use of armed force, on the basis of rigorous assessment and with well-founded motivations, can only be given by the decision of a competent body that identifies specific situations as threats to peace and authorizes an intrusion into the sphere of autonomy usually reserved to a State.

The Catholic Church called for more time for inspections, reaffirmed a doctrine tha condemned preemptive strikes-- the pope even called the war a "strike on the people of Iraq".

Depending on what the definition of "no" is

In saddening constrast, now consider a missive from Father Richard John Neuhaus, a prominent neoconservative and editor of First Things magazine. The following comments are from his moral analysis of the Iraq war published in 2005. The quotes are from an interview he published in
Iraq and the Moral Judgementby Richard John Neuhaus, followed by my point-by-point commentary in red.
  • "Closely related to that, I have a measure of expertise in moral theology while on those other questions, as Will Rogers said, I only know what I read in the newspapers. To be more precise, what I read in the newspapers, opinion magazines, and academic journals, and learn from people better informed than I and in whose judgment I have confidence."
    Did he set aside his moral judgment on the matter and defer to a politician he liked?

  • "... First it must be said that—although it appears that military action against Iraq may be only a matter of days or weeks away—faithful Catholics are joined with the Holy Father John Paul II in fervent prayer that war may yet be avoided. As he has said, war represents a defeat of the right ordering of peace—what St. Augustine called “tranquillitas ordinis.” In history nothing is inevitable, and with God all things are possible. "

    St. Thomas Aquinas and other teachers of the just-war tradition make it clear that war may sometimes be a moral duty in order to repel aggression, overturn injustice, and protect the innocent. The just cause in this case is the disarmament of Iraq, a cause consistently affirmed by the Holy Father and reinforced by 17 resolutions of the Security Council."

    This is a bit insidious. The church, the Vatican, RJN's Holy Father clearly condemned this war. RJN pulls him out as a supporter of its cause. Its like Clinton trying to invoke the pope's blessing for abortion.

  • "Has the action in Iraq checked or exacerbated radical Islam’s war of terrorism against the West? For an answer, pick your experts. Exclude those who have a track record of contempt for Bush, along with his uncritical partisans, and the weight of opinion is that U.S. policy has made a difference for the better."

    It seems as if RJN isn't really analyzing the situation at hand, merely stating his liking for folks beforehand. Is this how we do moral theology? It opens the door to taking any and all positions. One could say, "Ah, this hippie here hates X, therefore God must love X" (One could just as easily say, "Ah, this redneck militia here hates X, therefore God must love X").

  • "In the days and weeks following, Camillo Cardinal Ruini, who is head of the Italian bishops’ conference and was very close to the pope, sharply criticized pacifism and anti-Americanism and declared that the Church strongly supports the vision of a more free and just world."

    Is this really where the ideological lines fell-- between "pacifism and anti-Americanism" and their opposites? Again, I could say, "redneck militias oppose everything I'm doing, therefore it's good!"

Necessary reading on the topic includes:
War in the Gulf. What the Pope Really Said by Sandro Magister. This article lists several papal addresses on the topic and then sums it up with
"A war strongly opposed up to the last minute by the Catholic Church. Opposed but never condemned, judging by what was said by its supreme authority, the pope."


My analysis is that Christian neoconservatives such as Richard John Neuhaus have engaged in a faulty moral reasoning which relied on a "dance with them that brought ya". The problem is that political movements are not always aligned with the church, and perhaps by very definition act in their own self-interest. The problem is that the Iraq War had nothing to do with the first four ideals listed at the start of this blog post. Indeed, it mocked many of them. A million people killed, largely with the support of Christian neoconservatives. This way of thinking may inspire future theologians in the tradition of Neuhaus's logic to say, "Ah, supporters of the Iraq War supported criminalization of abortion, traditional marriage, and biblical authority. Therefore these must all be bad things." I fear many non-theists may stay non-theists for these very same reasons.

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