War and the Eclipse of Moral Reason

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on delicious
Share on digg
Share on stumbleupon
Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on print

This post was prompted by Kyle Cupp’s recent reflections on the “inviolability of human life” (Vox Nova October 6, 2011). Insofar as it concerns a republication of an essay pertinent to the topic of Kyle’s post, I will confine my own introduction to three responses that came to my mind during the course of reading.

First, with regards to the assertion that “any direct killing is not only an attack on the creature but an attack on God, which is always and everywhere evil” — I have often wondered how do advocates of this line of thought address God’s summary execution of Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament (Acts Chapter 5)?

Secondly, it seems to me that the adoption of a stance of absolute pacifism in some Christian circles flirts dangerously with the heresy of Marcionism — in that its adherents seem all too willing to draw a sharp divide between the God if the Israelites in the Old Testament (who was not above ordering Israel’s kings, prophets and judges to use lethal force, to say nothing of His own actions) and the by-and-large peaceful and nonviolent God of the New Testament (to which, again, the story of Ananias and Saphira might constitute an unsightly and conflicting blemish). This is exemplified in one reader’s comment:

More proof, if any were needed, that the so-called “Old Testament” should be consigned to the literature shelf, along with Homer and the rest of the primitive, pre-Christian texts. The “O.T.” can be cited to justify virtually any kind of homicide one should want to commit, including genocide. All one needs do is think that he’s channeling God’s will and he can kill with guilt-free abandon. Some call it piety; some call it pathology.

Cardinal Dulles once observed that the Old Testament the Mosaic Law specifies no less than thirty-six capital offenses calling for execution, and that while Jesus refrained from using force in most cases (a notable exeption being driving the money-changers from the temple with a whip), “at no point, however, does Jesus deny that the State has authority to exact capital punishment.” While he argued in opposition to the death penalty, he wisely saw that one could not do so in ignorance of, or opposition to, Catholic tradition. His example is worth emulating.

My third and final point has to do with the “dirty hands” perspective — the assertion that even in situations where killing is warranted (as a defensive measure), the mere act of taking human life itself is intrinsically immoral, the equasion of armed force with violance, and lethal force to murder, such that any resort to such is deemed necessarily sinful. Or as Kyle says: “Killing is always wrong, even when it’s right.” Curiously, I find this stance indicative of a distinctly Protestant mentality that dispenses with centuries of Catholic thought and tradition. (That said, we are in an age now where it seems that Protestant and Catholic voices have become indistinguishable on this very subject, with multiple fronts voicing indiscriminate condemnation of armed force without qualification).

This last and final point is best argued in the following essay, “War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning”, by Dr. Philip Blosser. (Republished here by kind permission of the author) — a discussion of which I hope will bear much fruit.

— Christopher Blosser

War and the Eclipse of Moral Reasoning

War is hell. Those of us who don’t know this from first-hand experience have a pretty good idea of it from recent Hollywood fare like “Black Hawk Down” and “We Were Soldiers.” The idea of making endless academic distinctions about the theoretical justifiability of war within the safety of magazine pages in articles composed from the comfort of an office computer with a mug of coffee at hand, may strike some of us as a trifle perverse. What kind of reasoning about war, we may want to ask, could possibly be moral, especially once we’ve agreed with General Sherman that war is hell!

I would like to do something a bit different, as others before me have delved into the details of Aquinas and Luther, as well as Augustine and others on just war theory. I think that we stand at such a vast emotional distance today from the kind of thinking involved in just war reasoning, that I would like to try to work backwards, starting from where I think many of us are today, and delve back into the conditions that led us here. My hope is that this may open the way to a clearer understanding of what is involved in the kind of moral reasoning that we find in what we call the just war tradition, a tradition of moral reasoning largely in eclipse today, except, perhaps, as James Turner Johnson recently pointed out to me, in our various military collages, where it is still very much alive.

By “moral reasoning,” I mean something quite simple and obvious. For starters, we can probably all agree, as long as we’re talking about war, that one fought in self-defense is probably not as bad as a war of aggression; that a limited war (like the Gulf War) is not as bad as total war (like the two World Wars); that a war that achieves a just and lasting peace is not as bad as one that doesn’t; or that a war in which prisoners are taken alive is better than one in which they are indiscriminately killed; or that one in which prisoners are treated humanely is better than one in which they are treated like animals; or that one in which civilians are not deliberately targeted is better than one in which they are, and so on. This kind of analysis, as well as the thinking about the principles underlying it, is what I mean by moral reasoning; and it’s the kind of reasoning involved in thinking about justifiable aspects of war.

I. The Shock of Incomprehension

But we may wonder: What does any of this have to do with Christianity? Isn’t Christianity about beating swords into plowshares, about loving our enemies, about the peace of Christ and the Kingdom of God? What has the Gospel of God’s grace to do with the analysis of things like the “discriminate use of lethal force” and “collateral damage” in warfare?

Something strikes us as bizarre about this juxtaposition. And probably nothing highlights so well the vast distance between just war reasoning and the outlook of many Christians today as the utter shock often felt when confronted by a sampling of such reasoning. Augustine and Aquinas, for example, suggested not only that war may be justified under certain conditions, such as the defense of a country’s citizens from invasion, but that waging such a war may be a duty to one’s neighbor, even a form of charity and love of God. (Significantly, Aquinas’s treatment of war is found within a larger treatise on charity; and the same is true of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where war is discussed within a larger treatment of love of neighbor.) More recently, John Langan, professor at Georgetown University, wrote about developing “an understanding and a practice of warfare that is in accord with the sanctity of life.” (Langan, 7) But probably the most jarring remarks are those of the well-known and beloved author, C.S. Lewis:

What I cannot understand is [the] sort of semipacifism you get nowadays which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it. It is that feeling that robs lots of magnificent young Christians in the Services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage–a kind of gaity and wholeheartedness.

I have often thought to myself how it would have been if, when I served in the first world war, I and some young German had killed each other simultaneously and found ourselves together a moment after death. I cannot imagine that either of us would have felt any resentment or even any embarrassment. I think we might have laughed over it. (Mere Christianity, 107)

Then, in what is nearly a paraphrase of Aquinas’s words in Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 40, art. 1, reply 2, C.S. Lewis writes:

. . . Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves–to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not. (Mere Christianity, 108.)

Such sentiments are generally so far removed from those that prevail in our own day as to leave many of us scandalized by them and uncomprehending of a moral reasoning that could lead to such statements. Can such sentiments be sane? God help us!

Why is there such a disconnection, a chasm, between just war reasoning and the outlook of our own times? There are probably many reasons, both religious and secular, but I would start by talking about the aftermath of WWII, the Cold War and Vietnam. Especially Vietnam. Vietnam was more than a war. It changed us as a culture and a people. We lost our innocence. It represented a shift in consciousness, a loss of certainty in ourselves, in our increasingly confused national cause, even in the possibility of our ever being right at all. The trajectory of this shift can be traced by comparing films about WWII, like “The Longest Day,” or early movies about Vietnam, like “The Green Beret,” starring John Wayne, in which there are clear good guys and bad guys, with films near the end of the war in Vietnam, like “Apocalypse Now,” “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket,” in which such distinctions look naïve amidst the harsh realities of war in which there are no winners, let alone good guys. It was a time of assassinations — the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr.; and betrayals — like the Watergate scandal and cover-up under the Nixon administration, and the national guard shootings of student protesters at Kent State. It was a time of moral anarchy, reckless free love, Height Ashbury, Timothy Leary, and death by drug overdose (Janice Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, Ginger Baker, John Belushi, Jim Morrison). It was a time of extreme and radical ideas, from Hunter S. Thompson, Abbey Hoffman, and Allan Ginsburg, to Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, Huey Newton & the Black Panthers. Then, like a parting eulogy to the decades that gave us the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan, there was John Lennon’s wistful ballad “Imagine,” and “all we are saying . . . is give peace a chance.” Remember?

In short, the Vietnam era made us doubtful, which made us humble. But it was a new sort of humility. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton: “The old humility was a spur that prevented us from stopping; not a nail in our boot that prevented us from going on. For the old humility made us doubtful about our efforts, which might make us work harder. But the new humility made us doubtful about our aims, which makes us stop working altogether.” (Orthodoxy, ch. 3) In other words, we seemed to be collectively confused and lost.

A lot of this rubbed off on the churches, of course; and not least the Catholic Church, which concluded the Second Vatican Council in the middle of all this in 1965, provoking a great deal of unintended silliness that left observers wondering whether American Catholics were going through some sort of New World adolescence. There were stories of priests elevating pizzas at the consecration during Mass. Nuns and monks fled their religious orders in droves, and seminaries looked like they would be emptied. Novelty was in; tradition was out. Dorothy Day proclaimed a vision of apocalyptic nonviolent anarchism. Thomas Merton recommended Ghandian nonviolence and turned to Zen Buddhism. The Jesuit Berrigan brothers dismissed the Catholic just war tradition as worthless, broke into government offices, poured blood on draft files, climbed over fences of defense facilities and smashed the nose cones of missiles. Prophetic drama and posturing were in; carefully reasoned policy recommendations were out.

Among the more telling stories I’ve heard is one related by George Weigel about a Peace & Justice retreat he attended in 1982 in Seattle:

It was a wet, cold morning in January 1982 as about one hundred of us crossed Puget Sound on a Washington State ferry to attend a day-long retreat at the Ground Zero Center, just beside the Trident submarine base in Bangor, Washington. We had been invited to participate by the Justice and Peace Center of the archdiocese of Seattle. Our retreat would be led by Jim and Shelly Douglass, founders of the Ground Zero Center. On arriving at Ground Zero, we trudged through ankle-deep mud to a semifinished wooden geodesic dome, under which the retreat would be conducted. Once inside the dome, after our eyes adjusted to the dim light provided by a creaking electric generator outside the door, we could see a gigantic golden Buddha, before whom was laid a basket of oranges, and in whose honor joss sticks burned, adding to the dimness and fragrance of our surround[ings]. We were led in an opening prayer by the archbishop of Seattle, and then told by the Douglasses that the purpose of our time together was not to think analytically about the arms race, or the varieties of Catholic moral responses to it, but, rather, to “get in touch with our feelings.” (Weigel, 170)

Feelings were in; moral reasoning was out. These sorts of changes in attitude– particularly the abandonment of moral reasoning about war– almost all took place during two critical decades from 1965 to 1985. The rapidity of this shift is staggering. In 1965 Commonweal columnist William V. Shannon defended the idea of “preemptive use of military force to preclude the People’s Republic of China from gaining a nuclear capability.” (Ibid., 193) But just sixteen years later, no “progressive” Catholic would have been caught dead defending such an interventionist position when Israel made a preemptive strike against the Osirak nuclear reactor being built in Baghdad by a notoriously hostile regime. These changes in attitude found their way into diocesan programs, like those in Seattle, into seminaries (where the just war reasoning, along with Aquinas, vanished from curricula), and even into the statements of US Catholic bishops, such as the 1983 document, “The Challenge of Peace,” in which hardly a trace can be found of the of fertile tradition of Catholic moral reasoning so evident in thinkers of just a generation ago, like John Courtney Murray. Bishop William Sullivan of Richmond described just war theory as “an excuse to go to war, mental gymnastics, casuistry of the worst sort” (Ibid., 249). Other bishops called for unilateral nuclear disarmament; and when it was pointed out that this would have the unintended effect of making war more likely, their only response was the deus ex machina suggestion that, in the words of Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen, “God would make up for our folly.” (Ibid., 247) Here we see a pacifist ethic of pure intentions, in which no responsibility is assumed for consequences, edging out a traditional ethic of political judgment, in which consequences were taken quite seriously.

Again, this shift was related to the aftermath of the Cold War and Vietnam. It may be that the anti-establishment, anti-traditional attitudes associated with the counter culture and protests against Vietnam helped to foster a culture of mutiny against unquestioning acceptance of the classic Catholic authorities (like Aquinas) and traditions (like the just war theory). It may be that hostility toward our Vietnam policies helped gain a new hearing for the views of the “historic peace churches” (Mennonite, Brethren, Quakers) and their pacifism. It may be also that the historically uncritical manner in which many Catholics undertook to implement Vatican II’s call for a renewed focus on Scripture opened the door to naively simplistic views about the way in which Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about loving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek were taken to be directly applicable to foreign policy. But there also had to be some “trickle down” effect from the general erosion of confidence stemming from the loss of foundational certainties in science and philosophy, culminating in Stanford University Professor, Richard Rorty’s definition of “truth” as “that which your peers let you get away with saying.”

Such were the changes that were overtaking us everywhere, of course, and not merely in the Catholic Church. I found it significant that Time magazine named Stanley Hauerwas “America’s best theologian” two days before the terrorists struck on 9/11/01, which in itself may be a commentary on the ambivalence of the responses emanating from the various Christian communities in the weeks and months that followed. In 1970, Hauerwas, who was then teaching at Notre Dame in Southbend, IN, discovered the writings of Mennonite pacifist theologian, John Howard Yoder, who was then teaching at the Mennonite seminary in Elkhart. They met, Hauerwas became a confirmed pacifist, and the rest is history. That same year, Hauerwas was asked to represent Notre Dame and present a paper at a colloquium with the theology department at Valparaiso University. Hauerwas introduced his remarks by saying that here he was, “a Methodist of doubtful theological background (Methodists by definition have a doubtful theological background), representing a Catholic department of theology speaking to a bunch of Lutherans to say that the Mennonites had been right all along” (“When the Politics of Jesus Makes a Difference,” 6). This is almost as telling, in my opinion, as the subsequent appointment of John Howard Yoder to the theology faculty at Notre Dame. Was Yoder the revenge of the 16th century Anabaptist peasants upon their Lutheran and Catholic oppressors? It looked like Mennonite pacifism was getting the upper hand against classic just war reasoning.

All of this collectively signals the vast distance at which we now stand, as a culture, from the Catholic tradition of just war reasoning after only a few, short decades. The tradition of moral reasoning by Christians about the justifiable use of force as part of an overall framework of public and international policy has largely been forgotten. This is what I mean by the “eclipse of moral reasoning.” One is more apt to hear that war cannot be reasoned about morally at all, today, than the kind of nuanced analyses found in Catholic tradition about the civil duty involved in decisions about the use of lethal force by police, the death penalty (one thinks of Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s recent defense of the death penalty), and justifiable war. Paul Ramsey warned us about all this. (Weigel, 89-92)

A friend of mine recently emailed me a joke, about that well-known nation in the news lately, notoriously armed with weapons of mass destruction, which threatens the world with the terror of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, led by an irrational maniac named George Bush. The remarkable thing about this joke is that, even if we may not like it, its humor is readily accessible to us. No vast distance separates our outlook from the set of assumptions animating it. The sentiment is similar to that of the oft-quoted remark: “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Or the comment of Duke University’s Stanley Fish on the events of 9/11–that “there can be no independent standard for determining which of many rival interpretations of an event is the true one.” (Bennett, 57)

What these statements all have in common is the outlook of postmodern skepticism and relativism, which, according to Allan Bloom, is the most predictable fact about university and college students across our nation today–an outlook he characterized significantly, in the words of his erstwhile bestseller, as The Closing of the American Mind (1988). Considered on its own terms philosophically, it is an embarrassingly weak position, and no different from the relativism rebutted by Plato and rejected by almost every serious thinker since. Not only is such relativism self-refuting (for if nothing is certain, then neither is relativism); it is blind-sighted about the most elementary steps in moral reasoning. As William Bennett recently observed: “Last time I looked, there was a crystal-clear distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter, and it had to do with the morality of means: a freedom fighter doesn’t massacre innocent civilians in pursuit of his ends.” (Bennett, 46)

II. Analysis of Attitudes Toward War

Having examined the history behind what I have called the “eclipse of moral reasoning,” now I would like to briefly situate the alternative positions on war within a larger historical framework, then critically examine the underlying assumptions of those that constitute the greatest challenge to the just war tradition.

From a bird’s eye view of history, the basic attitudes of people toward war fall into three large groups: the view that war is (1) normal, (2) abnormal, or (3) fallen.

The view that war is a normal fact of life found widespread acceptance among the ancient Greeks, for whom Ares, the god of war, was a major God, while Irene, the goddess of peace, played only a minor role. One finds it also in Heraclitus’ view that war is “the father of all things,” and in Plato’s view that the republic must be prepared to defend itself (it is noteworthy that he distinguishes between war against fellow Greeks and against non-Greeks, setting restrictions on the former). It can be found in the cynical “realism” of Machiavelli; Thomas Hobbes’s notion that the “state of nature” is the state of “war of all against all”; G.W.F. Hegel’s view of war as a principle of national regeneration (fight or stagnate!); Friedrich Nietzsche’s romanticized cult of war (“a good war hallows every cause”) and cynical rejection of Judeo-Christian ethics as weak and feminine; Heinrich von Treitschke’s militant Aryanism (“war is the remedy for an ailing nation”); Friedrich von Bernhardi’s “survival of the fittest” ethic, which drew on Karl von Clausewitz; and Naziism.

The view that war is abnormal (and eradicable) found support among the ancient Stoics who regarded themselves as citizens of the world; others argued for a particular European peace, such as William Penn and abbé Saint-Pierre; and, still others argued for the international abolition of war, like the Enlightenment thinkers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant, and, later, Jeremy Bentham, J.S. Mill, John Dewey, and Bertrand Russell; others argued for a single world government, like Emeric Cruce. (Those, like Pierre Dubois and George of Podebrad, king of Bohemia, who wanted to unite European nations for common defense against the Turks in the 17th century probably don’t count here.)

A third view was taken by those who regarded war as neither “normal” nor “abnormal,” but as fallen, in the sense of resulting from our fallen or sinful nature, as Christians have generally believed. “We are mistaken,” wrote C.S. Lewis, “when we compare war with ‘normal life.’ Life has never been normal.” (“Learning in Wartime,” 22) And that is because life itself, even at its most tranquil, is fallen. This is why “war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.” (Ibid., 21) In view of eternity, Lewis could even suggest that the questions raised by war are “relatively unimportant.” (Ibid.)

This view of war as fallen, subdivides again into two subsidiary views: the view (1) that warfare, though an effect of sin, may, under certain conditions, be practiced in a manner that is sinless (in the sense of involving no actual, as opposed to original, sin), and (2) that warfare itself is always and everywhere inherently sinful.

The first of these views, of course, is the position taken by classic just war reasoning, such as found in Catholics like Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and developed more systematically by Francisco de Vitoria and Francisco Suarez in the 16th and 17th centuries; and Protestants such as Martin Luther (with qualifications), John Calvin, Hugo Grotius, Jeremy Taylor and Richard Baxter. But it is also the view found in varieties of just war pacificism that object to unjust wars but see nothing wrong about engaging in wars that are just.

The second view, that war is inherently sinful, again subdivides into two more views–(a) that war, though sinful, must sometimes be accepted as the only responsible alternative in a fallen world, and (b) that war must always and everywhere be utterly renounced. The first of these is a view found among many mainline Christian groups, but comes to particularly clear expression in the work of Reinhold Niebuhr and the mainline Lutheran tradition, and finds some antecedent support in various remarks by Luther (particularly in reference to his view of the “two kingdoms”). The second view, that war must be utterly renounced, represents the position of “absolute pacifism” found classically in the writings of Anabaptists (Mennonites, Brethren, etc.) such as Guy F. Hershberger, John C. Wenger, and, preeminently, John Howard Yoder; as well as various contemporary variations, such as the late Cardinal Bernadin’s “seamless” or “consistent” life ethic (opposing abortion, euthanasia, death penalty, and all war), and Dorothy Day’s and the Catholic Worker’s indiscriminate condemnation and renunciation of all killing, even in defense of oneself or others.

The greatest challenge to the tradition of just war reasoning historically came from the side of Machiavellian realism, which views war as natural and subject to no moral constraints. In recent decades, however, the primary challenge has come from the other views — on the secular front, from the view that war is abnormal and eradicable, and on the religious front (which we are focusing on here), the view that war is fallen and inherently sinful, and must be either renounced completely (the “absolute pacifist” view), or accepted some cases as the only responsible alternative, although unavoidably sinful (the “dirty hands” view). These views have made significant inroads among Catholic thinkers in recent decades, even though they represent a radical break with the mainstream of Catholic tradition. Here I will examine only the last two religious views, which have posed the most serious challenges to just war reasoning, especially the pacifist view.

III. Critical Examination of Two Contemporary Rival Traditions

A. The ‘Absolute Pacifist’ Tradition

Classic ‘absolute pacifism’ finds its most authentic expression in Mennonite theology, which traces its ancestry to the Anabapatists of the Reformation era, who articulated the position of Christian pacifism in Article 6 of the Schleitheim Articles of 1527. Concerning the power of the “sword” mentioned by Paul in Romans 13, these articles declared that it had been ordained by God “outside the perfection of Christ.” The idea was that God might use that sword to accomplish His purposes, just as He may use the wrath of heathen nations like Assyria to visit His judgment upon the Children of Israel when they turn away from Him, but that doesn’t mean we’d want to be caught dead fighting in the Assyrian army! Christians, according to the Mennonite tradition, are called to a higher New Testament ethic of love and nonresistance. They are called to work for the establishment of the “Peace of Christ” (Pax Christi), not the “Peace of Rome” (Pax Romana).

By way of historical support, Mennonites suggest that the earliest Christians were pacifists and shunned military service, that certain bishops, like Basil of Caesarea, may have imposed a penance upon soldiers for killing even in a just cause (although these claims are disputed). When the Roman Emperor, Constantine, was converted to Christianity and legalized the Faith, of course, all this changed. Christianity became a state religion, which meant armies were then enlisted to defend a Christian empire. In keeping with the classic Protestant textbook tradition, of course, all this is viewed as part of the corruption and ‘fall’ of the Church from its early purity; and the subsequent Catholic tradition is viewed as representing a profoundly corrupted and tainted form of Christianity, not merely with respect to its development of a just war theory.

Yoder does not see this New Testament ethic as apolitical (his magnum opus is significantly entitled The Politics of Jesus). In fact, he chides the just war tradition for de-politicizing the Gospel, by which he means interpreting the ethic of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount as socially inapplicable or politically irrelevant. Yet the fact remains that when proponents of this sort of pacifism are called upon to articulate their response to events such as those of 9/11 or the war against terrorism, they often come off sounding implausible. Accordingly, Stanley Hauerwas worries that pacifists, such as he, get sidelined because they look like they just “have nothing to say.” Pacifists are just “not going to have an immediate policy response,” he concedes. “So that means that we must go on, as [Karl] Barth said in 1933, as if nothing has happened.” (“Interview,” 1) On the other hand, the temptation to be politically relevant keeps tugging in the direction of suggesting policy recommendations. But to the degree that they remain faithful to their pacifism, their policy recommendations come off sounding silly. For example, Hauerwas asks about the possibility of apprehending terrorists nonviolently, or of an international police force that would never have to kill anyone. He quotes Jean Vanier who said in a Catholic Worker column in response to 9/11: “Let us give our hand to all those around the world who suffer, who cry out and are fearful. . . . Let us remember that the smallest gesture of beauty and tenderness done with humility and confidence will bring unity to the world and break the chain of violence.” (Ibid., 2). In an interview with Jim Wallis in Sojourners, Hauerwas agonized over the palpable impotence of the pacifist position, finally suggesting that ground troops in Afghanistan would be better than bombing, in order to avoid civilian deaths. But at that point he was no longer reasoning as a pacifist, but engaging in classical just war reasoning. Even Yoder himself, apparently, was not immune to this temptation, and was speculating about the possibility of a global police force near the end of his life.

H. Richard Niebuhr, in his book, Christ and Culture, characterized the Anabaptist position as a “Christ against Culture” stance, pitting the Church against the world, in a posture of prophetic witness. Despite Yoder’s claims to the contrary, this characterization seems to accurately define the Mennonite position. It is even echoed in the title of one of Yoder’s own books, The Christian Witness to the State. Note: the Christian stands outside of and over against the state as witness to the state concerning the demands of the Gospel of love and peace. There is no question of the state’s being “Christian” in any sense of the word, or conforming to the New Testament demands of Christ’s ethic.

A problem here is with the way in which Christ’s ethic of love is assumed to apply directly to foreign policy and the exigencies of warfare. What did Jesus mean by his command to “turn the other check”? The absolute pacifist assumption is that Jesus here imposes a duty of nonresistance on everyone in every circumstance. Yet without in the least minimizing the demand Jesus places on his hearers to mortify their anger and shun revenge, one can ask whether the statement does not imply a reservation in favor of obviously exceptional cases. Accordingly, C.S. Lewis asks:

Does anyone suppose that Our Lord’s hearers understood Him to mean that if a homicidal maniac, attempting to murder a third party, tried to knock me out of the way, I must stand aside and let him get his victim? I at any rate think it impossible they could have so understood Him. I think it equally impossible that they supposed Him to mean that the best way of bringing up a child was to let it hit its parents whenever it was in a temper, or, when it had grabbed at the jam, to give it the honey also? I think the meaning of the words is perfectly clear — “Insofar as you are simply an angry man who has been hurt, mortify your anger and do not hit back.” (“Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” 49f.)

John Courtney Murray was once asked by a puzzled friend what foreign policy had to do with the Sermon on the Mount. He answered, “What makes you think that morality is identical with the Sermon on the Mount?” Moral reasoning, Murray insisted, was not simply a matter of quoting Scripture. But to understand this, he said, it was first necessary to recognize the shortcomings of the moralistic outlook that has dominated American thinking about morality down to our own day. He described it thus:

It’s style was voluntarist. It sought the constitution of the moral order in the will of God. The good is good because God commands it; the evil is evil because God forbids it. The notion that certain acts are intrinsically evil or good, and therefore forbidden or commanded by God, was rejected. Rejected too was the older intellectualist tradition of ethics and its equation of morality with right reason. Reason is the dupe of interest and passion. . . . In the search for moral principles and solutions reason can have no place. . . .

In its sources the older morality was scriptural in a fundamentalist sense. In order to find the will of God for man it went directly to the Bible. There alone the divine precepts and prohibitions are stated. They are stated in so many words, and the words are to be taken at their immediate face value without further exegetical ado. . . .

In its mood the old morality was subjectivist. Technically it would be called a “morality of intention.” It set primary and controlling value on a sincerity of interior motive; what matters is not what you do but why you do it. And it was strong on the point that an act is moral only when its motive is altruistic — concretely, when the motive is love. If any element of self-interest creeps in, the act is corrupt and sinful.

Finally, in its whole spirit the old morality was individualistic. Not only did it reject the idea of a moral authority external to the individual conscience. It also set its single focus on the individual existence and on the moral problems that arise in interpersonal relationships. As for society, it believed in a direct transference of personal values into social life. . . . Its highest assertion was there would be no moral problems in society, if only all men loved their neighbor. (Murray, p. 263f.; emphasis added)

To put the matter in contemporary terms, this view asks: “What would Jesus do?” The problem with this is that there are some basic ways in which we can’t take Jesus as our example, because He came to do for us what we could not for ourselves, namely to die for our sins. The real question, rather, is “What would Jesus have us do?” And He tells us to love our neighbor, and leaves it to us to think through what that means. Moralism provides no resources for moral judgment amidst the complexities of world affairs, because it denigrates the peace of a rightly ordered political community as something sub-Christian and unworthy of the Christian calling to a higher peace, the Shalom of the eschatological Kingdom. There is also a similar confusion here involving the concept of “love.” The diverse demands of love in the manifold relationships of temporal existence — love of parents, children, spouse, community, co-workers, church, country, each with its unique and particular demands — are eclipsed by the unconditional and absolute meaning of love expressed in the command of Christ to love God with your whole heart and your neighbor as yourself. This is what the Dutch Calvinist philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, calls the “Cape Horn” of Christian ethics (II, 149, 154; cf. 141), because it represents the temptation of the Christian ethicist to displace the irreducible temporal modes of love demanded by moral reasoning in favor of the transcendent fullness of Christian love in which there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male or female, but all are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28). But the fact is that our world remains full of such distinctions, as evidence by Paul’s own letter to the slave owner, Philemon. This, in fact, is the confusion represented in Third of the Twelve Articles of the Swabian peasants whom Luther addressed in his Admonition to Peace, by their assumption that fraternal oneness in Christ entailed an automatic abrogation of their legal status as serfs (Admonition, 12).

B. The ‘Dirty Hands’ Tradition

The ‘dirty hands’ tradition finds its clearest expression in classic Lutheranism, which, according to H. Richard Niebuhr, represents a “Christ and culture in paradox” view. This position is clearly expressed in Reinhold Niebuhr’s significant title Moral Man and Immoral Society. The Christian stands simultaneously as a member of two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Christ, in which he stands under the high demands of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, and the Kingdom of this World, in which he stands under the demands of civic responsibility, which inevitably fall short of those high demands. Again, in a letter to a pacifist who was reluctant to favor the Allied war effort against Hitler, Niebuhr wrote: “Your difficulty is that you want to live in history without sinning . . . our effort to set up the Kingdom of God on earth ends in a perverse preference for tyranny, simply because the peace of tyranny means, at least, the absence of war.” (Love and Justice)

Antecedents to this view can be found in Luther, although he was by no means a systematic or consistent writer — particularly in the contrast between his Treatise on Christian Liberty and his pamphlet, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants. As H. Richard Niebuhr notes, “it is a far cry from Luther’s celebration of the faith that works by love, suffering all things in serving the neighbor [in the former], to his injunction to the rulers to ‘stab, smite, slay, whoever can [in the latter].” (H.R. Niebuhr, 170f.) In the former, he talks about a Christ-like joyful love of neighbor that “takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss,” just as the Father causes His sun “to shine upon the good and upon the evil.” But in his pamphlet against the peasants, we read that “a prince or lord must remember in this case that he is God’s minister and the servant of his wrath to whom the sword is committed for use upon such fellows. . . . Here there is no time for sleeping; no place for patience or mercy. It is the time of the sword, not the day of grace.” (Ibid., 171) “There are two kingdoms,” writes Luther, “one the kingdom of God, the other the kingdom of the world. . . . God’s kingdom is a kingdom of grace and mercy . . . but the kingdom of the world is a kingdom of wrath and severity. . . . Now he who would confuse these two kingdoms — as our false fanatics do — would put wrath into God’s kingdom and mercy into the world’s kingdom; and that is the same as putting the devil in heaven and God in hell.” (Ibid., 171f.) But it is the single individual, according to Luther, who lives simultaneously in both kingdoms, much as it is the same individual who is simultaneously justified and sinner, simul justus et peccator. As Niebuhr observes: “So far as a person is responsible only for himself and his goods, faith makes possible what the law of Christ demands, that he do not defend himself against thieves or borrowers, against tyrants or foes. But where he has been entrusted with the care of others, as father or governor, there in obedience to God he must use force to defend his neighbors against force. The greater sin here is to want to be holy or to exercise mercy where mercy is destructive.” (Ibid., p. 178, citing Luther’s “Secular Authority”; emphasis added)

Practically, the “dirty hands” position does not differ from the Catholic tradition insofar as it accepts the responsibility of civic duty. Where it does differ is in its frequent assumption that such responsibility unavoidably involves one in sin (“dirty hands”). Luther himself is ambivalent on this point. But others, like Reinhold Niebuhr, are not. This assumption often plays out in a tension between the competing demands of love and justice, Gospel and Law, internal and external, the private and public. On this view, justice represents something less than love, since the ideal of justice resides in the domain of Law and sin. The root of the problem here, it seems to me, is a failure to see that justice itself is an expression of love. This is preeminently evident in the Cross of Christ in which the fullness of God’s love coincides with the fullness of His justice. But what prevents this from being apparent in the justice of a just war, for example, is the same thing that prevents the “absolute pacifist” from seeing that love of a well-ordered political community is not a rival to the love of God and Shalom of His Kingdom, but a distinctively political, temporal expression of God’s love a fallen world. It is the problem of the “Cape Horn” of Christian ethics, all over again. As Aristotle shows us, the general concept of justice is refracted as if by a prism into a diversity of particular kinds of justice — commercial justice, remedial justice, and distributive justice. Each of these has, for the Catholic, its proper place in life — even the remedial (or retributive) justice that sometimes imposes fines for misdemeanors and severer penalties for severer crimes. The fact that certain forms of remedial justice are made necessary by our fallen nature does not, of itself, make such justice anything less than an expression of divine love and grace.

I am aware that this classic Niebuhrian interpretation of Luther has been called into question by a new Finnish interpretation, which discounts the familiar “paradoxes” and “dialectical tensions” associated with Luther’s “two kingdoms,” grace and law distinction, etc. (Braaten & Jenson, Union with Christ) But this is a discussion for another venue and does not change the fact that Niebuhr’s interpretation accords with what has been the dominant one for the past two centuries, or more.

John Courtney Murray saw this sort of “dirty hands” ethic as suffering from the effects of the same moralism that afflicts “absolute pacifism.” In particular, he noted three “pseudo-problems”: The first was the alleged gulf between the “personal” and “social” ethics, which supposes that a responsible “social” or “political” ethic demands a violation of one’s “personal” ethic. This pseudo-problem did not exist within the natural law tradition of moral reasoning, in which society and the state were “natural” institutions with their own relatively autonomous, public purposes, such as justice, freedom, security, and general welfare. Any effort to bring the organized action of politics under the control of the values that govern personal and familial life would have been seen as inherently fallacious. The second pseudo-problem was national “self-interest,” which was thought to involve an unavoidable acceptance of absolute state sovereignty. But the answer to moralism was not an immoral realism, but moral reasoning, properly understood. The tradition of moral reasoning required that national interest, recognized as a valid and constant motive, be given only a relative and limited status as an end of nation action, always balanced by the higher and more ultimate international order to which its national interest must contribute. The third pseudo-problem was “power.” It was supposed that power and force, though unavoidably necessary, were inherently tainted by evil. “The traditional [natural law] ethic,” says Murray, “starts with the assumption that, as there is no law without force to vindicate it, so there is no politics without power to promote it.” That power can be abused is but a testament to the fact of its ordinary and proper use as an agent in promoting good. (Weigel, 124f.)

IV. The Tradition of Moral Reasoning

There is a reason why some early Christians were pacifists. They were not in charge in the world. They represented a minor sect. They were often persecuted. They met for prayer in the catacombs. During most of the period in which the New Testament was composed, they lived in expectation of the imminent return of Christ. This expectation colors much of the outlook of the Gospels. It would be anachronistic, therefore, to expect the New Testament to include a systematic articulation of moral reasoning about problems that emerged only when that expectation of an imminent return of Christ was transformed by the realization that His second coming would not occur in the foreseeable future. The beginnings of this transformation can be seen already in the arguments in the Book of Acts and Paul’s Epistles about whether gentile Christians should observe Mosaic laws on circumcision and diet. These arguments, though not about war, reflect an understanding that a detailed set of rules for public Christian life in the interim between the Resurrection and Second Coming are not to be found directly in the sayings of Jesus.

When Constantine dropped the Imperial Roman prescriptions against the Christian religion in the Edict of Milan in AD 313, Christians abruptly found themselves in a very different world — one where they were no longer marginalized and persecuted, but where their religion was suddenly the state religion of Rome and their emperor himself was a Christian. It was a world where they found themselves having to take responsibility for society, and think — as Christians — about questions of political order and foreign policy. Augustine’s rejection of early Christian pacifism and his articulation of a theory of justifiable war must be seen as a necessary part of this development in Christian self-understanding, once the decision had been made to leave the catacombs and undertake a transforming mission in the world. This transforming mission involved the development, following Augustine, of a tradition of moral reasoning about political life.

George Weigel is explicit about seeing this emergent Catholic tradition of moral reasoning as “conversionst” or “transformationalist,” that is, in terms of H. Richard Niebuhr’s category of “Christ the Transformer of Culture.” (Weigel, passim) It was not possible in this ethos for the Church to think of itself as “over against” the world, since it had to be responsible for transforming the world. This is when it became clear to Christians that it was not enough to ask “What would Jesus do?” — but rather, “What would Jesus have us do?” And over the centuries, Christians concluded that what Jesus wanted them to do was not only to mortify their anger by turning the other cheek, but also to build cathedrals, hospitals, and universities; not only to write commentaries on scripture, but also to compose treatises on medicine, philosophy, law, political and constitutional theory — like Aquinas, who wrote that a just government required the consent of the governed, and that the role of government is not merely remedial — to restrain sin — but a natural good and gift from God. (Copleston, 419, 168f.) Among the other things Christians concluded, over the years, was that they had to ask what Jesus required of them when turning the other cheek would mean failing to defend one’s neighbor or capitulating to the “evil peace” of a repressive aggressor. This was the beginning of the tradition of moral reasoning that began the arduous work of formulating the conditions under which war came to be regarded as sometimes justifiable, sometimes even a duty of love to neighbor and God, as a means of defending or restoring the just peace of a rightly ordered political community. The task of establishing and preserving such a peace was understood, not as a sinful undertaking to sully one’s hands, but as a vocation eminently worthy of the Christian in the interim between Christ’s Resurrection and Second Advent.

I would like to close with a remark by James H. Toner, Professor of International Relations and Military Ethics at the U.S. Air War College. A number of years ago, he said, while teaching in Vermont, he was on a public affairs panel discussing just war issues. He soon discovered that he was the sole supporter of that notion and was feeling considerable hostility from his audience. An elderly man in the rear stood and said that he wanted to support his views on just war, adding that he was a classical musician. Great, thought Toner: there’s one person in the room who agrees with me, and he’s probably a nut. “I want to tell you,” the man continued, “what is the sweetest music I have ever heard.” Toner cringed. “Although I have heard wonderful music thousands of times,” the man went on, “the most beautiful was the sound of U.S. Army tanks. You see, they were coming to [the death camp where I was being held as a young man], and that sound meant that I would be able to grow up.” (First Things, 5/02, 6)

Bibliography of Cited Works:

Bennett, William J. Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. New York: Doubleday, 2002.

Braaten, Carl E., and Robert W. Jenson, eds. Union With Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908; New York: Doubleday, 2001.

Copleston, Frederick C. History of Philosophy. Vol. 2. Medieval Philosophy: Augustine to Scotus. Westminster: Newman Press, 1957.

Hauerwas, Stanley. “When the Politics of Jesus Makes a Difference.” The Christian Century (October 13, 1993), 982-987. Reproduced online at http://www.religion-online.org/.

Hauerwas, Stanley. “Interview with Stanley Hauerwas.” A transcript of the interview conducted by Sojourners editor, Jim Wallis, on November 8, 2001. SojoNet: SojoNews: Current Opinion.

Langan, S.J., John P. “General Sherman, General Schwarzkopf, and the Ethics of War.” Annual Jesuit Lecture in Human Values. Milwaukee: The Center for Ethics Studies, Marquette University, 1992).

Lewis, C.S. “Learning in War-Time.” In The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: Macmillan, 1949; Collier Books, 1980).

Lewis, C.S. “Why I Am Not a Pacifist.” In The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: Macmillan, 1949; Collier Books, 1980).

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1943; 1979).

Luther, Martin. Admonition to Peace: A Reply to the Twelve Articles of the Peasants in Swabia. (1525) Trans. by Charles M. Jacobs. In Luther’s Works. Vol. 46. The Christian in Society, III. Ed. By Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967.

Luther, Martin. Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants. (1525) Trans. by Charles M. Jacobs. In Luther’s Works. Vol. 46. The Christian in Society, III. Ed. By Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967.

Murray, John Courtney. We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition. Garden City: Doubleday Image Books, 1964).

Niebuhr, H. Richard. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper & Row, 1951.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Love and Justice. Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1957; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Moral Man and Immoral Society. New York: Scribner, 1960; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001.

Scalia, Antonin. “God’s Justice and Ours.First Things (May 2002), 17-21.

Thomas Aquinas, St. Summa Theologica. 5 Vols. Trans. By the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. 1911; New York: Benziger Brothers, 1948.

Toner, James H. “Resisting Evil With Words and Weapons.” First Things (May 2002), 6-7.

Weigel, George. Tranquillitas Ordinis: The Present Failure and Future Promise of American Catholic Thought on War and Peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

Yoder, John Howard. The Christian Witness to the State. Institute of Mennonite Studies Series, No. 3. Newton, KS: Faith and Life Press, 1970.

© 2002 Philip Blosser

Dr. Philip Blosser is a professor of philosophy at Sacred Heart Seminary of Detroit, MI. He has taught at Duquesne University, Harlaxton College (England), and most recently (since 1994) at Lenoir-Rhyne College in North Carolina. He blogs regularly at Musings of a Pertinacious Papist.

An earlier version of this article was presented by Dr. Blosser at the Tenth Annual Aquinas/Luther Conference held October 24-26, 2002 at Lenoir-Rhyne College, and reprinted with his kind permission.

More to explorer

Saint of the Day Quote: Martyrs of the Spanish Civil War

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 10: 39  

Year Zero Again

  Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no

September 22, 1776: Nathan Hale’s Only Regret

How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue! Who would not be that youth? What pity is it That we can die


  1. Oh Lord, Phil and Chris, you have gone and done it! You have crossed the Shavian line in the sand. You’re now (gasp!) death penalty maxiumists! God’s prophet will thunder from Seattle to solemnly damm you for your blood lust! Repent, or face the prospect of your comboxes of being flooded with ani-death penalty tirades1 LOL!

  2. How does John 8:10 fit?

    At first glance, Christ abrogates the Mosaic law. In essence, He says that only the sinless (i.e. God) can righteously stone the woman for her sins.

    As for the proposition that the death penalty does not contravene Charity, I have to respectfully disagree.

    The death penalty is sometimes necessary. Indeed, through much of history, it was the only choice that would protect society from further injury. However, where alternatives exist, surely Charity demands that we choose the alternative.

    I believe that all men can turn to God and accept His mercy. This capacity exists in the most sinful as much as in the least. If this be so, then more time may be of great benefit to those deserving of capital punishment. SS Lieutenant Colonel Herbert Kappler’s story illustrates my point I think.

    It is probably uncommon that men who justly face death for their assault against society turn towards God. Doesn’t the possibility that a soul, starved of the evil influences that brought him to death’s door, might one night see himself for who he is and God for who He is and, so, repent, justify the abolition of the death penalty?

  3. What in heck is a vox nova?

    “Some would say, ‘Well Father, what about those people who support the war in Iraq, or the death penalty, or oppose undocumented aliens? Aren’t those just as important, and aren’t Catholic politicians who support those “bad Catholics” too?’

    “Simple answer: ‘No. Not one of those issues, or any other similar issues, except for the attack on traditional marriage is a matter of absolute intrinsic evil in itself.'”
    Father John De Celles, 9/1/2008

    And so, if they vote for abortion, contraception, euthanasia, gay marriage, etc. because the candidate opposes the DP and proposes socialism [fill in the blank].

  4. G-Veg, Jesus was responding to Pharisees who had caught a woman in the act and wanted Him to pass judgement. What they did was illegal, according to the Mosaic Law, because both the woman and the man involved had to be tried (So the Pharisees actually abrogated that law). Besides, they were trying to trap Jesus. If He said that she shouldn’t be executed, they could say that He opposed the Law. If He said that she should, not only would they accuse him of lacking compassion but fomenting rebellions against Rome, since the Romans were the only authority that could perform executions in first-century Palestine (that’s why the Pharisees went to Pilate to crucify Jesus; they couldn’t do it themselves).

    Jesus’ answer did not excuse the sin. It pointed out the Pharisees’ own trechery…and the Pharisees knew it; just look at their immediate reaction.

    Not even Sister Helen Prejean, one of the most popular opponents of capital punishment, contends that the abolitionist position has biblical roots, or that John 8 condemns capital punishment, as she admitted in her book, Dead Man Walking:

    “It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) – the Mosaic Law prescribed death – should be read in its proper context.

    This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment.”

    Besides, adultery no longer is considered a capital offense by any nation outside of the Muslim world.

  5. Besides, the whole concept of “the inviolability of human life” denies the fact that God, as the Author of life, has the prerogative to outline conditions under which that life must be taken — and also effectively makes life itself a kind of idol. That last statement is pretty strong, I admit, but eminently logical.

  6. I have disagreed more often than I have agreed with Joseph over the years, but I think his last comment is spot on correct. Catholics can have a disordered understanding of the importance of life in much the same way as Protestants can have a disordered understanding of the importance of Scripture. These disorders can lead to the worship of life or Scripture instead of God.

  7. I hadn’t considered the NT passage in that context before so I appreciate the response.

    My larger point about the death penalty stands unanswered though. (I’m not sure whether the allegation that some Catholics idolize life was meant to answer it or not. If so, I need something further to understand the point.)

    I trust that you will humor my response to the point that justice demands death as a punishment for some crimes.

    It may be that justice demands certain punishments for certain crimes. God made all and His destruction of anything He created is eminently just. This is a simple truth. However, men presume too much when they declare themselves the righteous hands of God. Frankly Man doesn’t have that great a track record on justice so it is a bit of a farce to declare that so-and-so deserves death but another does not.

    The justness of the death penalty as a general punishment is somewhat distinct from the justness of a particular sentence but it is not entirely separate. I don’t think it quite right to suggest that a society so poor at determining guilt is equipped to dispense so final a punishment. Even if it were, even if we got it right all of the time, it still doesn’t answer the charge that killing a man cuts him off from the opportunity to be saved.

    It isn’t that life is valuable in and of itself, it is that being alive is the precondition to accepting God’s mercy. That’s not idolatry, it is Charity for a fellow sinner.

  8. In regard to the death penalty, Pius XII set forth well the traditional Catholic view in a speech on March 13, 1943 to parish priests in Rome:

    “Human life is untouchable except for legitimate individual self-defense, a just war carried out with just methods, and the death penalty meted out by public authority for extremely grave and very specific and proven crimes.”

    The papal states had the death penalty and executions were not infrequent. The Vatican had the death penalty from 1929 to 1969 which was reserved as a punishment for assassination of the Pope.

    Here is a good wikipedia article on Giovanni Battista Bugatti, the official executioner of Pius IX, who carried out some 516 executions between 1796 and 1865:


  9. I thought the later movies about veitnam you mention were made well after Vietnamese War, not at its end?

    The issue with Vietnam, as it is with many of our skirmishes of late, is the very mixed motives for which we get involved. WWII seemed pretty straightforward. Vietnam, as well as many of our forays into Latin America and elsewhere have much more cynical motives. Thus, it is not that Just War is rejected for pacificism, but that Just War, when applied, demonstrates many of our excursions are seriously lacking. That, and for good reason, people trust the gubmint far less in these matters than they used to.

  10. “WWII seemed pretty straightforward.”

    Only after Pearl Harbor cmatt. Before Pearl Harbor quite a few Americans, probably a majority, were quite willing to see the rest of the world go to hell as long as the US could stay out of it. In regard to Vietnam the problem was that most Americans eventually concluded it wasn’t worth it. Other than the idiot Leftists like Jane Fonda who actively supported the enemy, most Americans had no illusions about what the Communists would do once they won. However, the death toll for Americans was simply too high to maintain the war effort where the existence of America wasn’t at stake. War weariness historically sets in for the US at about the third year of a conflict, and it takes a very great threat to the US itself for the US to stay the course, unless casualties are relatively minor. (Certainly of course casualties are never minor to the wounded and the dead and their grieving families.)

  11. Christopher

    Y0ur fathers article was one of the best I read at the time. Still one of the best I read from any time.

    I was coming home from the dentist about that time and as idea for a satire came into my head. “Root Canals and the Decline of Moral Reasoning”. Following the logic of those being criticized, dentists should not do root canals because the patient feels pain for the dentist’s instrumtnerts. Better to take the moral high road and leave them with and intolorable tooth ache. After the pain killer wore off it did not seem as funny.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  12. Permit me the risk of sounding even more distinctly Protestant by explaining my statement a bit further. I said killing is always wrong, even when it’s right. I stand by that, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the wrongness of killing is necessarily sinful or detrimental to the soul. In my perhaps muddled way of thinking, killing presents us with an act that defies our moral categories. Even though I see good reason to think of killing as justifiable in some circumstances, I cannot escape the lingering sense that even these acts of killing are evils to be avoided. The Church itself calls for all war (emphasis on “all”) to be outlawed by international consent. Never again war, pontiffs have spoken. Why does the Church desire an end to deeds that can be just? Perhaps because even just killing is a moral evil of sorts.

  13. Kyle, the Vatican cannot be seen as taking sides in any war because doing so would sabotage its diplomatic credibility, let alone its moral credibility (though some of us believe the Vatican has no moral credibility, but that’s a discussion for another day). In addition, there’s a strong sense of appeasement within the Vatican, as exempllified by its stance not only on the 2003 invasion of Iraq but also by its stance on the 1990-91 invasion of Iraq, which the UN approved to get Saddam Hussein’s forces out of Kuwait, which Iraq attacked without provocation and tried to annex.

    If the Vatican believes that “just killing is a moral evil of sorts,” then it’s clashing headlong with, for example, the OT’s divine pronouncements against the Canaanites (because of barbaric religious practices) and the Amalekites (for attacking the Israelites when they were at their most vulnerable during the Exodus). Granted, we no longer live in OT times. But anything “just” cannot be considered a “moral evil;” doing so is not only a logical contradiction but also an ethical one.

  14. Kyle is correct in that killing men is an evil to be avoided if possible. I have talked to many combat veterans over the years and few of them have expressed animosity towards the men they were fighting, as opposed to the causes those men fought for. The veterans I have spoken to viewed their combat opponents as simply men like them fighting for their country and their deaths as a sad thing, although far prefererable to the veteran and his buddies dying.

    I think it was Wellington after Waterloo who said that the only thing half as melacholy as a battle lost is a battle won. Combat veterans often have a bond going through that searing experience that civilians, thankfully, never know. That is why in the 1880s, for example, Union and Confederate veterans began holding joint reunions. Killing is a very sad thing, but in this fallen world it is often a very necessary thing, lest far worse things occur.

  15. Donald
    You know this but it needs to be added….fighting is an ontic evil of being so to speak but it must be done with spirit, energy, committment and belief. If a combatant is filled with present regret about fighting, he will lose. The Kuomintang really gave their second best in the defense of Nanking against the Japanese which turned into their tenth best when soldiers fleeing Shanghai quit and dressed like civilians….leading to a contempt by Japanese which led to tens of thousands of poorer Chinese women of every conceivable age being raped and killed in the tens of thousands for 6 weeks by an army that Mitsui had repeatedly ordered to treat civilians with respect because the world was watching.
    Second Timothy 3:1 says, “In the last days, dangerous times will come.”. Christ said there will be wars and the rumors of wars but such would be the beginning of sorrows. Outlawing war by international agreement simply doesn’t have credibility in a world where the apostasy must take place. I don’t look at quixotic statements of two Popes…minus 263 other Popes. I look at their bodyguards and what those bodyguards are carrying….SIG pistols and H&K submachine
    guns…top of the line. Don’t look at words; look at choices in the everyday.

  16. I do not disagree Bill. One can be sick at the idea of killing other people, while still being filled with pride in one’s unit and believing that it it can overcome anything it confronts. Fortunately we humans are complicated creations of a loving God and can hold various thoughts and emotions at the same time.

  17. Don, The Church hasn’t always been on the side of right in its dealings in the world. Sometimes the all too human aspects of the institution overwhelm its divine mandate. It strikes me that, with regards to executions of condemned criminals, the Church Temporal did what was common and prudent at that point in history. The Church acted as a sovereign and, as such, exacted Man’s justice. If I have it right, then I don’t believe that the response addresses the underlying concern: that cutting a man off from the opportunity to accept God’s mercy is a grave evil and could only be the right choice where there are no reasonable alternatives.

    Joseph, Thank you for pointing me to the articles and papal statements on the matter. I had not heard or read them before – my catechesis being woefully inadequate. I rather think though that our Popes and Bishops have the better of the argument and that your take on the matter lacks the cohesiveness and a concordance with scripture and tradition requisite to prevail over the official position of the Church.

    Aquinas’ critique is far more cogent and persuasive. This is hardly surprising and it is worth pondering his position that the imminence of death for one’s crimes makes stark the connection between life’s choices and the consequences. He is arguing that if staring death in the face for one’s sins doesn’t turn the hart, nothing will. I don’t argue that this may be true. We can imagine a theocracy in which punishment is meted out based upon a concern for the soul of the condemned. We can conceive of a tribunal as much concerned with reclaiming lost souls as man’s justice, sentencing one to death and another to a lifetime in jail based upon their receptiveness to correction. However, I suspect that such conjecture is purely utopian – that it is not likely to work as intended.

    Man’s justice is terribly flawed precisely because Man is terribly flawed. Our self interest, prejudices, and imaginings intervene in our perception of Truth to create confusion. Our conclusions are riddled with fault and uncertainty.

    We are pretty good at dispensing justice on a broad spectrum of law. There may be many individual cases that reach an un-just result but the law, as a whole, finds guilt where there is guilt and acquits where there isn’t. So long as we are talking about other than punishment that terminates life, this may be good enough. It may be the best we are capable of. However, I am arguing that it isn’t good enough when we are talking about capital punishment. It is evident from your article that the Church agrees and fills in my sophomoric arguments with a great depth of learned opinions. Against this backdrop, your defense of death lacks sufficient substance to convince.

    I hope you will not misunderstand my response to be in any sense scoffing. Your article betrays a fine intellect. I appreciate your entertaining my thoughts on the matter. I am just not convinced that 1) because the Church executed people in the past that the death penalty is right or 2) because man’s sense of what is just or concern for the victims and their families is of greater importance than salvation.

  18. G- Veg
    In the process of reading the recent Popes, I would suggest you first read God in Genesis 9:6 because John Paul II not only read it but throughout Evangelium Vitae, he quotes the half of it that was consonant with his personal proclivity and he sequesters or removes from view the half that he dislikes:

    ” Anyone who sheds the blood of a human being,
    by a human being shall that one’s blood be shed;
    For in the image of God
    have human beings been made.”

    Read Evangelium Vitae which positions itself against the death penalty. JPII cites the last two lines repeatedly and never shows the reader the first two lines. Likewise no where in EV does JPII quote Romans 13:4. He’d rather you not see it but it is the NT echo of the first two lines of Genesis 9:6. He saw both quotes and effectively hides them from the reader. That kind of editing of the word of God on a topic would get a very low mark as an essay in any good university.

  19. Mr. Bannon,

    I respectfully disagree with your approach to resolving complex moral questions.

    I am not a protestant. I do not reserve to myself the authority to determine what the Word means when doing so would directly conflict with the Church or, worse yet, lead me to conclude that the Church is lying.

    You are entirely too bold in your critique of our Popes.

  20. G-Veg
    So in 1455 after Romanus Pontifex, you if Portuguese would have felt free to enslave natives who resisted the gospel ( mid 4th large paragraph) and after Exsurge Domine in 1520 (art.33), you would have supported burning heretics against Luther’s objections and in line with Leo X. That means that educated laity go in any direction whatsoever based on non infallible texts of Popes.

  21. We all approach moral problems in different ways. I can only speak for myself.

    I first ask if I know something to be clearly true – not in some amorphous way but with a very human certainty. Then I ask if what I know matches what the Church teaches. If it does, end of dilemma.

    If I am uncertain, and I often am, I yield to the Church’s clear and specific guidance.

    If the particular problem presents me with uncertainties and the Church has not specifically spoken to the issues, I seek advice from my betters and incorporate the different answers into what I know. I then run that result against what the Church teaches to make sure the answer doesn’t contradict the Truth and, if it doesn’t, I go with it and hope for the best.

    I pray about such things quite a lot and would really appreciate it if God would just give me the answer in sort of a burning bush moment. That hasn’t happened yet.

    What is your approach?

  22. My approach was to actually read the Scriptures cover to cover and memorize much, then I read Aquinas’ Summa Theologica almost cover to cover, then I read almost all of Augustine. That gave me the scriptures with the commentary of the two minds who were the best on it. Then I read Rahner and the extreme modern biblical scholar who was on the Pontifical Biblical Commission under JPII and under Benedict as Cardinal…..Raymond Brown. I interwove that with doing intimate Christian social work through caring for the twins of a heroin dealer and the daughter of a prositute for years in Newark. Thus when John Paul wrote EV, I had much background to know what he was leaving out. I submitted to his infallible passage condemning euthanasia despite my proclivity in favor of it in extreme situations like my mom’s; and I will always see his non infallible passages on the death penalty as deceptive but well intentioned…but deceptive. Were he interested in prisons, he would have noticed that Catholic dominant countries sans death penalties are in the forefront of high murder rate countries of the world. He never noticed. Neither he nor Benedict accepts the first person imperative nature of God giving death penalties or war orders (see EV sect.40 and Verbum Domine sect.42)….and there they part company with 263 other Popes you apparently would have followed in their time. That means if God did not give the war orders and death penalty orders in the first person imperative that scripture says He did…..then guess what….all of His first person imperatives like the Ten Commandments are now vulnerable. The anti gay action directives it can be argued were never really from God either just as the death penalties were not. Men can covet their neighbors wife or Japanese Maple. Who knows if God really opposed sloth?
    Can you see then why Christ quoted scripture (often out of context like Aquinas and Billy Graham)…. and why Christ said in John 10:35….”the scriptures cannot be broken”.
    John Paul and Benedict abided Raymond Brown who didn’t even believe that Mary said the Magnificat (page 349 “Birth of the Messiah”). It is no great wonder that they used his example to subtract God giving death penalties or war orders.

  23. Kyle and Blosser can both agree, can’t they, with Augustine: that even just wars and executions should be occasions for wailing, lamentations, and prayers for the Christian. I take it only that Kyle is emphasizing this last aspect–that even just wars are to be lamented–and that Blosser is emphasizing the prior aspect–that there could in principle be a just war or a just execution. Is there really a difference in principle here?

    If you agree with Weigel’s claim that just war theory does not contain within it a presumption against violence, then you have a hard time making sense of Augustine’s description of just war. But Weigel’s reading of the tradition is not accurate; hence we can say, with Augustine, that just wars exist, and that they should nonetheless be lamented, with groans and tears. There’s a both/and here, not an either/or.

  24. Mr. Bannon,

    I am very sorry that your mother suffered and appreciate your charity. In so many ways, a Christianity without action is no Christianity at all.

    Consciences and intellects are not formed equally. Some are sufficiently formed to determine for themselves what scripture says and means and to incorporate those ideas into the broader fabric of their experience and learning. I submit that most men are not up to this task and here state that I am one of these.

    The road to Luther and rebellion begins with well intentioned and intelligent men who favor their views over the Church’s. Lesser men look at a dilemma and say “I do not know and the Church has spoken so the Church is presumably right.” Men of greater knowledge and deeper intellects look at a dilemma and say “I can figure this out and, if the Church and I are in agreement, so be it. If not, I will reject the Church’s position in favor of my own.”

    Many who adopt that line of reasoning are not really up to the challenge. Their views are mere substitutions of their wishes and conceits for Truth.

    I cannot agree that the Church’s positions are as nothing and that a loose linking of writers and scripture should supplant the Church’s position. I will not become accustomed to narrowing my trust in the Church’s teaching to only that which is declared infallible. If that makes me a bit of a rube, so be it.

  25. I don’t look at quixotic statements of two Popes…minus 263 other Popes. I look at their bodyguards and what those bodyguards are carrying….SIG pistols and H&K submachine guns…top of the line. Don’t look at words; look at choices in the everyday.

    Bill, that is probably the most intelligent comment on this thread. Good on ‘ya!

  26. …I will always see (John Paul II’s) non infallible passages on the death penalty as deceptive but well intentioned…but deceptive. Were he interested in prisons, he would have noticed that Catholic dominant countries sans death penalties are in the forefront of high murder rate countries of the world. He never noticed. Neither he nor Benedict accepts the first person imperative nature of God giving death penalties or war orders (see EV sect.40 and Verbum Domine sect.42)….and there they part company with 263 other Popes you apparently would have followed in their time. That means if God did not give the war orders and death penalty orders in the first person imperative that scripture says He did…..then guess what….all of His first person imperatives like the Ten Commandments are now vulnerable.

    Bill, I wish you would write more about this subject in Catholic outlets. Too many Catholics favor the current revisionist policy either because they personally oppose capital punishment or do not have the intellectual courage to challenge the writings of any Pope, let alone an extremely popular Pope.

  27. I hope you will not misunderstand my response to be in any sense scoffing. Your article betrays a fine intellect. I appreciate your entertaining my thoughts on the matter. I am just not convinced that 1) because the Church executed people in the past that the death penalty is right or 2) because man’s sense of what is just or concern for the victims and their families is of greater importance than salvation.

    G-Veg, thank you so much for your compliments. Please re-read my article because my opposition isn’t based on whether the Vatican City State performed executions or on man’s sense of what is just. My opposition is based on the fact that the Church’s revisionist policy directly contradicts divine revelation when it comes to dealing with murderers (as Bill Bannon addressed in previous posts).

    Regarding salvation and concern for victims, those are two different categories. Accepting salvation is the responsibility of the perpetrator; that responsibility doesn’t change because of the nature or length of the sentence. St. Paul said that “now is the day of salvation!” Showing concern for victims is one of the Church’s moral and spiritual duties — one it doesn’t perform very well, btw. That doesn’t mean that the victims have no responsibility for their reactions. But if you have ever lost a loved one (as I have, twice), you know that grief can be powerful and overwhelming. The contemporary Church’s focus on the perpetrators of evil effectively not only ignores the suffering of the victims but, essentially, mocks it (as McCarrick’s comments demonstrated). That should be an abomination to anybody who has even a modicum of compassion.

    One more thing, and this came to me after I wrote the piece: JPII’s revisionism essentially changes the fundamental focus of the argument. Before, the focus was placed on offending the inviolability of the divine image in humanity. Now, the focus is placed on the state’s ability to protect society, which varies with the its ability to fund prisons and other penal measures. Given this nation’s current economic problems, many states may find it necessary to cut such expenditures, thus increasing the risk of putting dangerous criminals back on the street.

    I’m not arguing that capital criminals should be executed as a cost-cutting measure; that would be immoral. I am saying, however, that relying on the state’s ability to provide penal measures as a fundamental thrust of Church policy carries its own set of societal problems.

  28. Joseph D’Hippolito,
    Dissent against the papal non infallible is hidden in Catholic moral theology tomes which few buy or even know of; and such dissent is obscured by Lumen Gentium 25’s partial truth on religious submission of mind and will. Left to itself Lumen Gentium 25 ( if read partially the way it’s quoted) orders one to obey the pro slavery injunction of Pope Nicholas V and three successors and obey the pro burning at the stake idea of Pope Leo X. So how could a Catholic avoid two alleged intrinsic evils in the 15th and 16th centuries if they gave religious submission to acts now consideted inrinsic evils? But theologian Fr. Yves Congar noted that Councils often make partial truths whose completion,I add, can be found in LG 25’s case in conservative
    Germain Grisez’s “Christian Moral Principles” page 854…allowing dissent that is studious inter alia and against the non infallible. Put LG 25’s religious submission of mind and will together with the studious prayerful dissent clause hidden in moral theology tomes and you have a complete healthy idea that is thoroughly Catholic but unknown especially to converts on the net whose clergy contacts are not inclined to reveal freedom aspects but only restriction aspects….which the catechism also does by giving a “read until you believe what we said” concept of conscience which is contradicted by the moral theology permission of thoughtful dissent in the very conservative Grisez book mentioned above.

  29. Bill, what you just said reflects the ultimate failing of Catholicism, if you will: The institutional tendency toward enforcing collective control instead of stimulating faith. Part of that tendency is an approach to truth that reflects the philosophy of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984: “We were always at war with East Asia…I mean, with Eurasia….I mean….” In such a context, intellectual vanity often gets substituted for serious, profound, sensible discussion of theology.

    One of the more popular apologists, Mark Shea, even suggested that “docility” is the appropriate response to the Magisterium’s approach to capital punishment: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/mark-shea/the-death-penalty-and-docility/ . That approach, despite what he says, is merely another way of saying, “capitulate to authority, even if it might be wrong.”

    With Catholics such as Shea, who needs L. Ron Hubbard?

    Any religion that calls itself “Christian” must dedicate itself to the honest transmission of divinely revealed truth and not substitute its own intellectual vanity. Far too often, Catholicism has failed to do this….and I was baptized, raised as a Catholic and have worshipped as a Catholic for the vast majority of my life.

  30. Joseph,
    Return to Catholicism. You could be wounded by the fact that LG25’s submission concept taken in isolation is the law vis a vis fathers and older brothers in some Italian families. Much of Catholic authority nuances come from 343 straight years of Italian Popes. (The Church might have feared other groups after Pope Alexander VI (Spanish) and the Borgias in general.)

    I believe it was Karl Adam who said there were always problems in the outer crust of Catholicism due to human failings…. but not in the core…..where Holy are the sacraments, de fide
    dogmas, and the descent from the apostles. St. Antoninus in the 15th century said that at his
    time most of the curia had mistresses. If it’s not one thing, it’s something else. I liken it to one of
    those geodes you buy in a nature store wherein the center of the stone formation is these
    gorgeous milky colorful mineral deposits and the outer rock crust is very plain and here and there
    ugly. Convert writers have rarely encountered moral theology tomes and the issue I just
    broached though I would think Jimmy Akin knows his stuff but may not say it…noticing that the
    clergy never broach that topic. Career and one’s next meal influences Catholic-speak….whether within the clergy or within lay writers. You simply do not earn money from the active Catholic audience if you diverge from their exact knowledge level and borders by too much. Paul in Galatians “withstood Peter to his face”…and he could financially do so because he was a tent maker. Now…..Cardinals and Bishops and lay writers are not as independent as Paul. I’ll leave it at that. Return. We need you in….not out….and think on the Italian link. It was commonplace at Vatican II that generally Italian and Spanish clergy were found on the authoritarian side of issues while northern Europeans were on the other less authoritarian side….one can sometimes see it in comboxes. Go back to Rome and the Stoics believing that a father could execute his own children until the age of reason..14 for them. Extreme power. Then centuries later the mafia had similar tendencies for the godfather. Extreme power. Some of that nuanced itself into the Church. And it is that which could affect you more than it would me because it is close to you.
    Peace. My brother and his wife just got back from Venice and I’m stunned by how few photos he took from the gondola….stunned.

  31. I did not, until today, understand the Reformation.

    I am not a learned man. In some ways, this is a blessing for “much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” I bah contentedly as I follow my shepherds.

    Between work, a full home life, Knights of Columbus, scouting, and RCIA, there isn’t the time to do more than struggle with the next Sunday’s readings and do my hour at perpetual adoration. I am not complaining. I have a good life and am grateful for all that I have. I have been given much in this world and struggle to give back a full measure.

    The challenge of the learned is to remain more like Erasmus than Luther.

    It is a great burden to have a bright intellect and the opportunity to consume information. Remaining humble and trusting of God and His Church is no small achievement.

  32. Joe D:

    “Forgive all injuries.”

    You have a beef with Mark Shea, take it up with Mark.

    I am a true ignoramus on philosophy and theology. I know accounting and finance. That feeds and clothes my family. But, I minimally read and take in commentaries on the issues.

    My take: The intrinsic evils Catholics MUST confront are abortion, gay marriage, artificial birth control, government schools brainwashing children into amoral slugs, . . .
    See the Four non-negotiabl;es of the Pope in 2008 which were roundly ignored.

    In the military, the first thing they teach in tactics is you fight the most dangerous opponent/thrreat first. That is if you are facing a mortar and a platoon of infantry, you need to neutralize the mortar first, or you lose. Today, the intrinsic evils are the “mortar” and DP/war are the pea shooters. And, that could be the reason the Church is losing souls.

  33. What are the “Four non-negotiables of the Pope in 2008?” I haven’t heard of this and would like a point.

  34. I think it was the three non-negotionables:



    – protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;


    – recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;


    – the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.

  35. “In the military, the first thing they teach in tactics is you fight the most dangerous opponent/thrreat first.”

    Hah! Apparently they stopped teaching this round 2003!!! 🙂 (More plausible is that they kept teaching it, but politicians and DOD stopped listening.)

  36. I don’t make up stuff about God. A noted theologian penned the following,

    “Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

    That noted theologian that wrote the above is now Pope Benedict XVI

    I apologize in advance. I hope I’m not wrong here.

    How can the following be true, “any direct killing is not only an attack on the creature but an attack on God, which is always and everywhere evil.”? We believe that God the Father Almighty willed that Jesus Christ (True God and true man, like us in all things except sin; all loving, all redeeming, all saving, all courageous, all forgiving, all obedient, . . . ) must by His Life, Death (on a cross), and Resurrection purchase for us the rewards of eternal life.

    PS: God is eternally perfect. God did not change His “mind” about the DP in 1993, or whenever they rewrote the Catechism.

  37. St. Peter expressed his shock that Our Lord must suffer and die for us.

    Jesus’ response,

    “But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.”

    Matthew 16:23

    “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world.”

    I think as he was dying: “Being reminded of all he had suffered, he replied with these remarkable words: ‘Padre, this is not the time to be thinking of that; it is by the merits of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ that I hope to be saved.'” – Saint John of the Cross

  38. T Shaw
    You are reminding us that had Pope John Paul II gotten his personal way with the death penalty when Christ was starting His ministry…….we would not be saved at all….because our salvation required an unjust use of a good thing. That calls for a Bacardi Dark. I’ll think of other abstinences or other works to cover Friday.
    On another note, I am aware of three cases in the past several years of little girls being raped and strangled both in Canada and the US. In one the little girl took her tooth brush because she trusted the kidnappers lies. In another video showed the girl holding the shoulder of the man because she too trusted her kidnapper’s lies as to what they were about to do in the motel room.
    Would G-veg be satisfied with life sentences if that were his daughter? You give such men
    counseling on the particular judgement and God’s love for them and then shoot them as my wife
    says on those kinds of murders of children. She’s Beijing dangerous….being from there…..and more sensible about such matters than an auditorium filled with high clergy….who in 1520, would have been following Leo X in burning heretics…..from docility.

  39. T. Shaw, if we had taken Mark’s advice regarding “docility” on this subject, this thread wouldn’t exist. Being a Christian, let alone a Catholic, does not mean acting like a Scientologist.

  40. I was always taught to add “God forbid” after using an example like that. The comment should have read “[w]ould G-veg be satisfied with life sentences if that were his daughter? God forbid,” which, given the fact that I have two beautiful daughters, would have been courteous. Courtesy, courtesy, courtesy. It goes a long way.

    We are getting off track.

    Surely you agree that whether something is just or not does not depend upon the feelings of the injured. If justice were whatever the injured party demanded, then “justice” would be nothing more than a synonym for “vengeance.” I assume that this is not what you are saying and that your passions got the best of you.

    I have not heard any disagreement with the statement that “Catholics are bound by Ex Cathedra teachings.” I think we can dispense with that point as one answered.

    There is, however, substantial disagreement with the significance of teachings not bound by infallibility. I maintain that it is reasonable for a man to apply a two prong approach to moral dilemmas: 1) where the Church has specifically spoken, that teaching controls, 2) where the Church has not spoken with specificity, a man may seek guidance, mesh the advice together into something articulable and reasonable and then put that conclusion up against Church teaching to see if it passes muster.

    I am hearing variations on a theme from you guys. If I read it right, you are saying that ONLY Ex Cathedra teaching can be entirely trusted, that all other matters should be analyzed through the study of scripture, the teachings of Church doctors and fathers, the application of experience, and the application of reason.

    (Please correct me if I’m misstating the various positions.)

    If I am fairly stating the common thread to your positions, I have to ask whether there is all that much difference between your approaches and those of our high Protestant brothers. It sure seems like the only difference between your articulation and that of an Orthodox Metropolitan, an Anglican Bishop, or a Lutheran Pastor is that they would probably not concede that Ex Cathedra teachings could be trusted.

    This is well and good for learned men but, as alluded to before, it carries with it a frightening duty to be right. This is to say that encouraging others to abandon what the Church teaches in favor of what a Bannon teaches is to take the burden of their souls on one’s own head.

    You are braver men than I.

    And what if you ARE so confident. Indeed, what if you are right?

    Are you doing a service to Man by creating yet another area for men to scoff and mock the Church? Is it so awful a thing for your fellow Catholics to accept as a truth that life is precious from conception until natural death, that, where there is an option to preserve a life and, with it, a salvific opportunity, Christians should prefer that option?

    It may indeed be that the Church was in error in the past. Do you deny this is so? Do you reject the notion that the all-too-human temporal institution is sometimes in error and that the error might have been in too readily allowing man’s sense of justice to lop off the heads of the condemned?

    No… You have not carried the day. You have simply stated your opinion and, if I have to pick an opinion to follow, I will pick that of our Holy Father.

  41. G- Veg
          Let’s note what you conveniently left out about how the Pope got to a novel view of the death penalty which would have struck all Popes from 1253 AD til Pius XII in 1952 as oddball (the death penalty was affirmed that long and used by Popes almost that long and there were life sentences all that time since the Inquisition used it.
          Several days ago you did not know the following about Evangelium Vitae but you do now but you are pretending you don’t.  And the following is easily checkable by you…the encyclical is online.  You could have checked it by now…..or just prior to your post.
         This is not a normal encyclical but one in which the death penalty is treated and the two classic death penalty passages (Genesis 9:6 and Romans 13:4) are totally absent while a piece of the Genesis passage is cited repeatedly and it’s the reason God gave for the death penalty part but John Paul put it to an entirely different use while not showing the reader the death penalty part.  That is not normal since the encyclical quotes the Bible throughout it’s sections on a host of matters.  What I think you want is to never read God’s word extensively so that you can simply get it through Popes and put the whole onus as to what you believe on them.  Had you lived in various centuries with that shortcut, you would have been a slaver under Pope Nicholas V and three of his successors and you would have burned heretics at the stake under a series of Popes beginning with Innocent IV who made it mandatory for secular rulers whereas prior to him, they did it as a purely secular law.
          You know something odd happened in Evangelium Vitae with this editing of God by a Pope.  It is not hidden in a Vatican archive….it’s on the net and totally cheackable by you but it requires not a child’s relationship to the Pope but an adult’s relationship to the Pope.  You might ve holding onto the former because it saves you from feading the Bible….an unfortunate propensity of millions of Catholics who however have read thousands upon thousands of pages of their favorite books by the time they die…..but about 150 pages of God’s word on their own by the time they die.  Now to the question you dismissed on a technicality.

          I’ll ask again in my words not your family’s… the question you avoided with an etiquette tour of a  prayer tradition of your family.  Transactional analysis people (I’m ok,you’re ok) would say you jumped into your “parent” script to avoid the question.  And I’ll ask because that physician-father in New England whose wife and daughter were raped and killed and burned two years ago simply wanted the death penalty for the two men who destroyed his family.  He did not want the two men burned or sodomized so as to match the crime.  He wanted less than what they did.  Augustine noted that men usually want more than an eye for an eye…..knock out someone’s eye and see if they do not seek more than one of your eyes in civil court…..so the doctor- father asking for the death penalty in the New England case was measured and more relevant than a sentence constructed by someone who is insensitive due to little experience with offspring… like a Pope with no daughters.  
    These last two Popes had a lot of inertia just rallying up anger about priest pervs in 20 years.  Even their biggest fan, George Weigel, doesn’t suggest that either will go down in history as heroes in that matter.

    Again to the question:
          Would it suffice for you to know that the murderer-rapist of your family member has a life sentence which here in the US means he gets guaranteed three meals a day ( unknown to half the world), sports facilities, medical and dental, and no worry as to the ups and downs of employment or of paying bills.  By court order, he gets visits and phone contact and you have an abyss within you about her abscence everyday for the rest of your life.  As to his possible 
    repentance, that will happen if he cooperates with God…and he’ll have ample time even under the death appeals time period (20 years in CA…10 probably in many states.  Judas began to do that cooperation with Gid then he stopped according to Augustine and Chrysostom who greatly disagreed with these two last Popes about Judas’ fate being in doubt. A murderer-rapist may just as likely commit sexual sins….be it masturbation to TV…. for the next 30 years whereas imminent death may have freightened him away from that and towards God.  Oddly the new papal position may be enabling rapist murderers to do countless more mortal sins so that they not only go to hell….but go to a deeper part.
    Again….a theological possibility that goes unmentioned in the Catholic press…..a saccharine outlook unsupported by Eccesiastes which says, “The number of fools is infinite.”. Adding up mortal sins within a life sentence seems more probable than repentance for the majority of criminals until we look at the two crosses to Christ’s sides.  A 50% success rate of death penalty repentance.  Many Popes would have considered that quite a wonderful rate of salvation.

  42. For all those people whio oppose the death penalty, would they support a truly just alternative? This is what my Dad (a very religious man) proposed as the alternative to the death penalty:

    Solitary confinement in a cell no bigger than what’s needed for a bed, a sink and a toilet bowl. No TV. No books except the Bible. A single 60 watt incandescent bulb continuously lit night and day (ok – make it flourescent for the greenie weenies). No visitors ever. Continuous Gospel music – hymns and what not – piped over a loud speaker 16 hours per day with 8 hours of silence a day for sleep. 3 meals per day – bread and water – that’s it. Let the capital offender live like that till God takes him home. Let him sit or lay in his stink for whatever remains of his life in this world. Now that would be REAL justice.

    Yet weak-kneed, yellow-bellied, gutless, spineless, cowardly liberal nit wits who would say, “That’s inhumane!” Well, what the guy did – murder, rape, etc. – was inhumane!

    For some strange reason there is this idiotic idea that we can re-educate a rabid animal such as a serial killer or a pedophile, and that we have to be nice and kind and tolerant to these freaks whie supplying themn with free housing, free food, free sanitation, free TV, and free education. Are we nuts!? No, we don’t have to do these things. We can do what my Dad suggested or we can send them to Jesus for final judgment. Romans 13:1-7 allows the later. Genesis 9:6 demands the later. And no one can overturn that.

  43. Conversation ceases and we throw mud at one another… There is a point in most conversations where one side can’t answer the other and, out of frustration, slips into name calling, misrepresentation, and assumption.

    I believe that I have clearly stated my position. I have stated my view of your positions as well and asked if I understand you rightly. Have you answered any of that?

    It would surprise those who know me to hear me called a “weak-kneed, yellow-bellied, gutless, spineless, cowardly liberal nit wit.” You assume that, because I oppose the death penalty, I am a Lefty. Weird… Taking the Church’s official position makes one a Liberal? I thought this was a Catholic space and I don’t think most readers would call it a Liberal one.

    The short of it is that you have no answer and, so, strike out like a viper, at any passing shadow.

    I assure you, there is something more Christian in the Amish approach to tragedy (see http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-07-24-amish-tragedy_n.htm) than I am hearing here. Instead of forgiveness and acceptance of God’s right to judge and punish, you advocate man’s justice as a replacement. Again and again I hear you saying “I’ll bet you wouldn’t feel that way if it were your child” and “If you actually suffered from violence, you would want the perpetrator to die.”

    Maybe. Maybe my faith would fail. Maybe I would lose my mind and take vengeance. Maybe I would accept God’s just demand that I spend eternity in Hell in exchange for seeing the same pain and horror on the perpetrator’s face and that of his family as I suffered. Maybe. God forbid.

    All of this is a smokescreen for you. The core arguments: that cutting man off from salvation is wrong where there are alternatives and the wisdom of accepting the Church’s teaching, even on matters not declared ex cathedra, remain unanswered.

    You throw out paragraph after paragraph of venom. You call the Popes liars and deceivers. Surely you didn’t think you could do that here and not get a response.

    What troubles me is that so few stepped up to the plate to declare their allegiance to the Church, to declare that it is fundamentally wrong to slander JPII and our German Shepherd. So strike away at character but know that none of that will get you one iota closer to being right.

  44. G-Veg,

    Do you support solitary confinement for the capital offender as I described above, or would you rather these criminals get free TV and free college education on the tax payer dime? Do rapists, pedophiles, serial killers, etc., deserve anything more than bread and water? Should they be treated better than the poor who have not committed any crime are treated? Do you disregard what most Popes previous to JP II and B XVI said regarding the death penalty? Do you throw out Romans 13:1-7 and Genesis 9:6 because they aren’t convenient to your liberal sentiments?

    If it talks like a duck and walks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it’s probably a duck.

  45. G-Veg
    Try using a real name and you’ll take more pride in documentation in your posts which are almost all subjective opinion and display no reading familiarity even with the encyclical you are defending.
    I have to stop responding to most of the faux moniker people. Their family name is never at stake in their posts. I’ll never learn. Yours looks like a vegetable juice drink one drinks after running. Your accusation of slandering two Popes is slander. Please let your daughters point out your faults even if only on Sundays at a family meeting. If you’re excessively protecting Popes from rational criticism, you are excessively protecting Pope G-Veg in the home from criticism.

  46. Well, I shouldn’t have been so nasty. I apologize to G-Veg. But I just don’t understand why some people think that if we just treat capital criminals nice and kind and are tolerant and support diveristy and all that crap, then we can cure them. It’s ridiculous.

    Now yes, I do NOT prefer the death penalty (I really don’t), but St. Paul did say that the wages of sin are death. Furthermore, while I do prefer the punishment for capital criminals to be solitary confinement on bread and water for life, God gave the State the authority to execute these criminals and neither JP II nor B XVI, whose motives are certainly laudable, can take that authority away. One other thing: I would wager (though perhaps G-Veg is the exception – he hasn’t, however, indicated so) that all those anti-death penalty folks would be equally appalled at the alternative of solitary confinement on bread and water for life.

    If one is a pedophile or a rapist or a spouse or child abuser or serial killer or a cop murderer, then one deserves a punishment fitting the crime and society deserves to be protected from one’s behavior.

    In simple terms, a rabid dog is taken out into the field and shot dead in the head. There’s no cure for rabidness. There’s no rehabilitation. Rather, the people threatened by the rabid dog are protected. Now that’s going to make me no friends here. To them I say the alternative: solitary confinement on bread and water for life. Will they support that?

  47. There are several ideas moving through this thread and I’d like to take them separately for clarity’s sake.

    Thank you for the apology. I am sorry for any unintentional offense.

    If I have restated positions unfairly, I am sorry for having done so. I called it like I saw it. I request though that you state your position more clearly though with regards to what you are claiming JPII and Benedict XVI have done. Reading your comments again, I get the same impression – that you are saying they intentionally misquoted scripture and redefined sacred tradition to support their position on the death penalty. That sounds like you are saying that the last two popes are lying and deceiving. If you mean otherwise, please clarify. If you do not, then I do not see that I have anything to apologize for.

  48. Paul
    I think you’re suggesting that the body does not need a host of vitamins and minerals and proteins that are not found in bread and water….or you are thinking of a one a day vitamin which district courts would rule insufficient.
    The official Bible of the Catholic Church is the Vulgate. Here it is on Romans 13:4

    ” Dei enim minister est tibi in bonum si autem male feceris time non enim sine causa gladium portat Dei enim minister est vindex in iram ei qui malum agit.”
    starting at non enim: not without cause does it (the State) carry the sword for it is the minister of God…a vindicator in His anger toward he who does evil.

    A vindicator in His wrath. CCC#2266 honors that passage and CCC#2267 in the opinion of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia….let’s that function vanish. If a life sentence satisfies for one victim’s life, it can’t possibly satisfy for two dead victims. The state is not a rehabilitator primarily but a vindicator in His wrath. If a person becomes good while waiting for execution, the
    state can stay the execution but is better morally if it carries it out because future felons will tell
    themselves they just need to get good on death row and the state will switch them to life.

  49. Mr. Bannon,

    With regards to my use of G-Veg, this is a reasoned choice.

    I am a civil servant and a conservative one at that. I am a civil servant working for the most liberal administration in my lifetime: one wed to forces allied against the Church.

    My job does not often require me to address social issues. This is good because my career would be in jeopardy if the many far-left people I work for knew I oppose abortion, same sex unions, adoption by homosexuals, etc. I leave out of the workplace discussions that have nothing to do with the workplace. However, I am not so naïve as to think that personnel decisions are made without searching the web.

    For the most part, I have kept my name off of the web. I don’t have any social networking accounts. Granted, some of this is due to security concerns (law enforcement) but much of it is protection from scrutiny by the Administration.

    I am curious though why you think knowing someone’s name makes a difference.

    I am active in my parish, scouting, the Knights of Columbus, RCIA… Were you a member of my parish, knowing that G-Veg and I are the same guy might make a difference. However, we will probably never meet so knowing my thoughts as coming from “Bob Smith” strikes me as no more illuminating than knowing them to be from “G-Veg.”

    G-Veg will do just fine. If you don’t want to talk to me, it is both of our losses.

    I have said before and here affirm that I respect your intellect. I want to hear your arguments and have been trying to give them a fair hearing. I’m sorry that you do not see this as an opportunity to fine-tune your positions. I surely see it as so for me.

    If this is the end of the conversation between us, go with Christ.

    Your Brother in Christ, G-Veg

  50. Mr. Primavera,

    You raise fair questions as to what constitutes justice for terrible crimes if not death.

    This is a different question than whether the death penalty is right where it isn’t necessary.

    I regularly go to prisons. They suck. Crowded, smelly, hostile, loud… The food is lousy and I can’t describe the unpleasant sensation of doors clanging behind you as you move from one section to the other. Everyone around you is engaged in some kind of scam and scheme. Even the pallet is unpleasant: orange jump suits, white walls, grey-blue doors and bars.

    The thing is, prisons have to be unpleasant or they cannot possibly be a deterrent. It can’t be just that one is losing one’s freedom. It must be oppressive for it to salvific. It is a small taste of hell here on earth so that one can learn and avoid the permanent condition. It is like swatting your kid’s but so that they can avoid prison later.

    Callous killers should never be let out. A “life sentence” should be a life sentence and the sentence of heinous crimes like rape should be a life sentence.

    I see no merit in providing prisoners with television or workout facilities. I see no value in training courses that don’t lead to occupations that they will likely use. I don’t much feel like paying for computer access for prisoners. They deserve what We the People feel like giving them and nothing more.

  51. Mr. Primavera, you write “[d]o you disregard what most Popes previous to JP II and B XVI said regarding the death penalty?”

    The short answer is “yes.”

    This is a reasoned choice.

    I don’t know what y’all do for a living. I’ve imagined it would be cool to be a professor, to be able to read and research, and then post what I thought. But I’m not a professor.

    I post when I have time. At work, I post while on teleconferences and such. (Speaking of punishment.)

    I read my RCIA stuff and help my kids with their Catechism. I do the breviary on the train (were it not for my train ride each day, I certainly wouldn’t get to it). I am able to get through the Rosary every morning while doing my chores.

    I say all of this, not because I’m proud of it, but to illustrate a reality: that many of us are doing all we can to live the faith but that there is a limit to what we can do. Reading posts on line can be helpful. Reading pointed to articles and encyclicals (for the record, I read it, I just don’t agree with the analysis and, to be fair, the analysis encompasses much that is outside of the corners of the document) is a great blessing to me because it opens up another layer of religious knowledge. However, the truth is that I am not going to be able to get to more than a smattering of the rich tradition of our faith.

    For those in my position, the best that we can do is to take the Faith where and in the time that we find it. As applied to the instant discussion, this is actually a pretty good approach because the men speaking to the issue are icons for my generation. Benedict XVI is a renown scholar. More importantly, we are talking about an encyclical, not a speech or homily. It is a document that was subjected to a robust process of review. I really don’t think it unreasonable for a Catholic to rely upon it.

  52. G- Veg
    I can see the difference in posts where there is a real name….though you’re reason is good. I’m out of the interchange. Read the Connecticut Petit case online for your daughters’ sakes and your wife’s. A family relaxed about criminal dangers in modern life. A family gone. The state deputes to each of us the right to kill home invaders who threaten our lives. I had one a year ago but I let him live because he was unarmed but I subdued him. If I get another one who is carrying a gun, I’ll shoot him straight through the heart with a magnum shotgun shell. After Jehu killed the house of Ahab, God…the Trinity…said to him, “You did well what I deem right.”
    2 Kgs.10:30. The last two Popes expressed chagrin at that side of the Bible (EV sect.40/ VD sect.42). Plato in bk3 of the Republic said males become feminized from too much culture….he was correct….and I say that as a painter. God be near you four.

  53. Mr. Bannon,

    I owe you an apology.

    I assumed this was theoretical. I think I understand better your visceral response to being told “killing is wrong, even where the condemned deserves it.”

    I’m sorry you faced that situation and glad that it ended as it did.

    I used to sleep with my Ithaca side by side above the bed. Then my eldest discovered there was a world beyond her nursery and I had to put it away in the safe. Now I keep a baseball bat behind my bedroom door.

    Again, I’m sorry if all this theory was so dismissive of your experience.


  54. G-veg
    Peace..I grew up in violence with two friends murdered yards from our house. One murderer served 5 years because he was young. He got out and bragged. An Irish gang overheard him and removed all his teeth from his mouth in a bar the hard way because they liked the Irish girl he killed. A life sentence of soup and no more seductions for the cassanova.

Comments are closed.